The call came Sunday afternoon shortly after news that Mississippian Chad Ramey, the former Mississippi State golfer from Fulton, had won the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic.
The caller had a question: “When was the last time before today that a native Mississippian won an official PGA Tour event? You’re supposed to know those kinds of things.”
The most obvious answer would be Jim Gallagher Jr. of Greenwood, whose nine professional victories include five on the PGA Tour, including The Tour Championship in 1993.
One problem there: Gallagher was born in Pennsylvania, raised in Indiana and played his college golf at Tennessee. He once won the old Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg, but he is not a native Mississippian. To which Gallagher, now a Golf Channel commentator, no doubt would tell you: “I’m better than that. I live here by choice.”
So, if not Gallagher, then whom?
My next guess would have been Glen Day, who grew up in Poplarville, and won the 1999 MCI Classic at Hilton Head, defeating Golf Hall of Famer Payne Stewart and Jeff Sluman in a sudden death playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole.
That happened 23 years ago last month, which would constitute a long PGA Tour victory drought for Mississippians, except for the fact that it turns out Day was born in Mobile, not Poplarville. He is not, technically, a native Mississippian.
Oh boy, I thought, this is going back a long, long ways. The last Mississippian to win on the Tour had to be either Pete Brown or Johnny Pott. Drivers were still wooden and golf balls were wound, not solid, when Pott and Brown won on the Tour.
Pott, one of golf’s great gentlemen, now 86 and living in California, won five times on Tour, the last time in the 1968 Bing Crosby National Pro Am, beating the great Billy Casper and Bruce Devlin in a playoff. Pott grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and played collegiately at LSU. And this is something I did not know until I looked it up: Pott was born in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
So that leaves Pete Brown, the first African American to win a PGA Tour event. Brown, who died in 2015 at the age of 80, won two PGA events, the last being the Andy Williams San Diego Open in 1970. On Feb. 1, 1970, Brown, born in Port Gibson and raised in Jackson, shot a final round 65 and then defeated Englishman Tony Jacklin in a playoff and win the $30,000 first prize. Yes, over the last 52 years, PGA purses have soared.
Brown remains one of the greatest Mississippi sports stories of all time. The son of sharecroppers, he learned the game caddying at a golf course he was not allowed to play. What’s more, he learned with a left-handed 3-wood and a right-handed 5-iron, both of which he retrieved from a lake. He did not own his first set of clubs until he was 20, by which time he had also overcome polio.
So, if my math is correct, when Chad Ramey clinched victory Sunday it had been 52 years, one month and 27 days since a native Mississippian won on tour.
Now, that’s a drought.
Here’s the good news: It won’t be nearly that long until it happens again.
Hattiesburg’s Davis Riley finished second at the Valspar Championship the previous week. He’s going to win on the PGA Tour. He’s too good not to.
Ramey, who was a picture of consistency the last two years on the Korn Ferry Tour, has the game to win multiple times. Hayden Buckley of Belden finished 13th in the same tournament Ramey won Sunday. Buckley — OK, so he was born in Chattanooga — has the game to win on Tour, as well. Ramey, Riley and Buckley give Mississippi three of the top 80 money winners on tour currently.
Recently, Jackson’s Wilson Furr qualified for full privileges on the Canadian PGA Tour, known as the MacKenzie Tour. Former NCAA champ Braden Thornberry still plays the Korn Ferry Tour. All these young guys, in their 20s, have enormous potential. And there’s an impressive crop of college and junior golfers behind them. Put it this way: It will not be 2074 before a Mississippian wins on the PGA Tour again.