I once followed Glen Campbell around 18 holes of golf at the Hattiesburg Country Club in the Magnolia Classic (now Sanderson Farms Championship) pro-am. That’s the excuse I will use for writing about Campbell in the sports section of this website.
Campbell, who died Tuesday at age 81 of Alzheimer’s, could really swing a golf club. He easily broke 80 that day. I well remember that on the 330-yard, par-4 12th hole, he clobbered his drive over the green and into the ditch behind it. This was circa 1970. He was using a wooden driver and a low-tech golf ball. I’m guessing the equivalent would be a 375- to 400-yard drive with today’s equipment. Believe me, that’s no exaggeration.
But what I mostly remember is this: Campbell just had a blast that day even though he was followed by an unruly throng of hundreds, including scores of school kids, that had to make it hard to concentrate. He played to the gallery, yukked it up, laughed a lot and cheered his partners. Not sure I’ve ever seen anyone have more fun on a golf course – except for possibly good ol’ Dizzy Dean in the same tournament. That night, Campbell sang Wichita Lineman at the pro-am party.
My introduction to Campbell had come a couple of years earlier, in March of 1968, also in Hattiesburg, at a concert at Reed Green Coliseum on the Southern Miss campus. Campbell opened that night for Bobbie Gentry, who had just hit it big with Ode to Billie Joe. She was Mississippi’s darling and a crowd of 6,100, some of whom had to sit behind her, showed up to hear her and watch her perform.
Gov. John Bell Williams was there to introduce Gentry, presenting her a House-Senate resolution commending her talent and her success.
Campbell, from Delight, Ark., was pretty much an afterthought, someone to warm up the crowd for the main act.
Funny thing happened: Campbell absolutely stole the show. He killed it. He did By the Time I get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman and Gentle on My Mind – all songs that were either budding hits or soon would be.
Then, in a tribute to Elvis Presley, he did a rousing collection of The King’s hits and brought the house down with Hound Dog. If you closed your eyes, you’d have sworn he was Elvis. If you opened your eyes and looked at Campbell only from the neck down, you’d have still sworn it was Elvis. He had all the gyrations.
His set remains one of the most memorable concert sets I’ve witnessed.
And I well remember, as he walked off the stage, my mama leaned over to me and said, “I wouldn’t want to be Bobbie Gentry right now. Nobody should have to follow that.”
And she was right.
That’s how I’ll remember Glen Campbell.