April 1, 2013

Wadsworth ready for a course correction

After a long hiatus, the only USC golfer to win an individual PGA Tour event has returned to the game, and Fred Wadsworth comes back at full speed.

After a long hiatus, the only USC golfer to win an individual PGA Tour event has returned to the game, and Fred Wadsworth comes back at full speed.

Not only will he be head professional at the Golf Club at Star Fort in Ninety Six, but also he casts his eyes on the Champions Tour — a dream not so far-fetched after his play last summer and fall.

“This is my first venture at a club in quite awhile, and we have a member-guest tournament coming up,” he said. “I’ll see quickly if I still have a job.”

No problems there, says Greg McBride, head pro at Columbia’s Northwoods Golf Club and director of golf at Star Fort, a course owned by his uncle Doyle McBride.

“Fred’s the guy,” said Greg McBride, who envisions his former USC teammate developing the overall program at Star Fort, especially among juniors, and still finding time to play competitively. “He wants to play, work and teach and if he can Monday-qualify for Champions Tour events, that’s a feather in the cap for the club.”

Wadsworth showed his game is still competitive in the Senior British Open last summer at Turnberry, and he went into the final round of Champions Tour qualifying school two shots off the line before, he said, “a final-round 75 ended that.”

But he had the itch again. He could remember when he would play on the PGA Tour and how he won the 1986 Southern Open in Columbus, Ga., in the toughest possible way — as a Monday-qualifier. He remembered playing around the world, winning in South Africa, and competing on what is now the Tour.

After holding the director of golf post at the University Club (now Cobblestone Park) in the mid-1990s, he earned a full exemption on the PGA Tour for 2001. But a back injury required surgery and cut short his hopes.

“My wife and I decided that with three children and a bad back, traveling and golf would not be fun,” Wadsworth said, and he gave up the game competitively. He kept involved by helping with the Hammond School teams, which he will continue to do, while working in real estate.

“Playing last summer showed I could be competitive despite being out of the game for so long,” he said. “That stoked the fire to play again.”

Bobby Foster, his coach at USC, recalls Wadsworth had “an average-length” game at the start of his college career, “but he worked extremely hard in the weight room and went to being with Davis Love III as the longest in college golf.”

His senior year, the 1984 Gamecocks finished 12th in the NCAA tournament, and Wadsworth and Webb Heintzelmann earned All-America honors.

“It’s great to be re-connected with the game,” Wadsworth said. “Working with kids especially energizes me and it’s a way to give back. I hope this turns out to be a win for everybody.

“There’s a good junior program already in place (at Star Fort), and I hope to enlarge that. Helping kids is my passion, and I’m uniquely qualified in that I have taken the steps into the pros that they aspire to take. I can deal with them in terms of reality and truth from having played at a high level.”

At the top, the game has changed so much in terms of economical and equipment. Wadsworth earned $63,000 for winning the 1986 Southern Open; Tour winners today bank more than $1 million — and all Tour players benefit from endorsements and perks.

“But the game is still about fundamentals, competitiveness and simply getting the ball in the hole,” McBride said, “and Fred can do that both teaching and playing. It’s great to have him back.”

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