Hal Sutton Named to inaugural Atlantic Sun Hall of Fame class
Monday, October 12, 2015

Note: Hal Sutton, a former Gent golfer (1976-80), will be inducted into the inaugural Atlantic Sun (current name of the Trans Atlantic Athletic Conference) Hall of Fame on Tuesday, October 13. The ceremony will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN App.

 

Article via AtlanticSun.org

 

For most golf fans, recollections of Hal Sutton are likely varied upon their age. There is one special memory provided by Sutton, however, that has transcended the moment and taken on a life of its own.

Paired with the best golfer in the world at the time – Tiger Woods – Sutton fired a six iron from 179 yards on the 72nd hole of a rain-extended 2000 Players Championship and uttered a phrase that he really hadn't even intended to be heard. "Be the right club, today," Sutton exclaimed as he watched his ball land safely on the green. Sutton closed out the hole and the round and claimed his second career Players Championship. He proved to himself, to Woods and to the world that he could still be one of the game's top players.

That moment came in the latter years of a career for Sutton in which he had achieved greatness at every level of the game. From his beginnings in junior golf, Sutton remembers learning what it meant to be committed and driven from his parents, although they each had their own ways of going about it.

"Mother and Dad were always there for me in every way," said Sutton. "My Dad pushed me in every way possible, because I always wanted too much slack. Maybe between me wanting less, and him wanting more, we balanced out. Mother was always there to pick me up, encourage me and remind me that he loved me."

As Sutton's game developed through high school and into college, success followed as he sharpened his skills under legendary golf coach Floyd Horgen at Centenary College in his hometown of Shreveport, La. Sutton names Horgen as the third member of the triad whose influence on and off the golf course led him to becoming the golfer and the person he is today.

"All of my motivation in college came from my parents and my Coach Horgen," said Sutton. "They kept motivating me, kept dangling the carrots out in front of me of things to be constantly thinking about. I think that is what happens, as someone has to help you set your goals. As an athlete I think sometimes we cut ourselves a bit too much slack and we need people who love us and care about us to remind us to stretch ourselves as far as we can. I look back and see that I was motivated to please them. I wanted to please myself but I also wanted to please others, and I think that is healthy that we do things for other people as well."

As an amateur, Sutton claimed a pair of Western Amateur Championships, ranked as high as ninth nationally in 1980 as a student-athlete and was twice a conference team and individual champion. He also picked up a pair of All-Conference and Trans American Athletic Conference Player of the Year awards and earned All-American status.

Also a two-time Walker Cup participant, in 1980 he completed his amateur career in fantastic fashion. He led Centenary to a ninth-place finish in the NCAA Championships, was selected by Golf Magazine as the College Player of the Year, won the U.S. Amateur, North and South Amateur, Western Amateur and Northeast Amateur titles and was the Eisenhower Trophy medalist.

"Having some success at all levels of golf, I think each level of success from junior golf through professional, each accolade made me feel that I could take the next step," said Sutton. "Each success makes you feel like you are prepared for the next step, and so you continue to push yourself.

"What this honor means to me is that it brings back many fond memories of when I was at Centenary – golf tournaments, friendships, and the education that I received while I was there. To be recognized by the Atlantic Sun Conference as an honoree in its inaugural hall of fame is a dream come true and I want to thank everyone very much for that."

Sutton jokes that while today certainly most golfers are considered athletes, he isn't sure whether or not golf was seen as an athletic endeavor as he was coming into his own. Nonetheless, he says that of real importance for him as a student-athlete was the bounty of lessons relevant to both the game and to life.

"What I really learned during that time frame is how to discipline myself and how to work hard," Sutton continues. "I think work ethic is one of the most important things that will carry you to the next level if you are a student-athlete."

Sutton adds that an element of that development that is often overlooked is the importance of the team. He says all too often golf is considered to be an individual sport, and fondly recalls many memories spent in celebration and encouragement with teammates and coaches.

"When I think back on being a student-athlete it makes me think of teammates and coaches and lessons learned together and how that equates to the rest of my life. I think it taught me how to get along with people and how to work with people. It taught me competition as well. I think some of the main things that we learn in our lifetime and that propel us forward to success are the relationships and the education that we get while in college, so I look back on that with fond memories as well.

"At the college level, excelling is so gratifying because you are doing it with a team," said Sutton. "You do have your teammates pulling for you, so I say particularly to all of those A-Sun collegiate golfers – you should enjoy that because that ceases once you turn professional. I miss the camaraderie of the team. We do Ryder Cup and President's cup competitions, but we don't do those that often and most of the time our efforts are for ourselves. Even when you fail you have the team there to encourage you, and I really miss the celebration of success with a team, there is nothing like that.

"One of the things that I look back on in my career in relation to that team dynamic is the 1999 Ryder Cup. Payne Stewart was a member of that team, and he was killed shortly thereafter. I remember sitting around the night after we won with Payne and us talking about the next time we would be together on a Ryder Cup team. I will hold that memory close to my heart forever because that is what teams do for us."

As a professional Sutton won 14 times on the PGA Tour with more than $15 million in career earnings between 1982 and 2006. His biggest tour victory came in the 1983 PGA Championship, when the 25-year-old fired opening scores of 65 and 66 and held on to claim a dramatic win and his only major title by edging a late-charging Jack Nicklaus by one stroke.

On numerous occasions Sutton ranked in the top 10 of the world golf rankings and continued to play well into the late 1990s, when he claimed titles at the Tour Championship (1998) and The Players Championship (2000). He is believed to hold the distinction as the only player who has outdueled both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the final holes of major golf tournaments. He became a regular on the PGA Champions Tour but also made his mark outside of the tour as a standout on four U.S. Ryder Cup teams including service as captain of the 2004 team. In 1998 and 2000 he also represented the U.S. in Presidents Cup competition. 

So despite a pair of hip replacements and other health issues with which he has dealt over the years, to what does Sutton attribute his longevity?

"The key to my success on and off the golf course is staying as balanced as I can," Sutton said. "I think one of the things that we fight in life is balance. We are too much into this or that and never balanced enough. It has never been perfect for me, but it is certainly one of the things that I have strived for.

"My mentor, Byron Nelson, would share things that were important in his life and how he was able to achieve the things he wanted to achieve in and outside of golf. It was all related to that idea of balance. He also wanted to be the best husband he could be, the best father he could be, the best Christian he could be and the best mentor he could be. Those are all balanced things and it is up to the individual to figure out what is out of balance. That is the question I ask myself all of the time."

At the point in his life and career in which golf has become somewhat secondary to other meaningful activity, the words "right" and "today" have taken on new meaning. Now part of a motto that Sutton uses to help others obtain more from the game of life, for him making the right decisions today includes investment in others, echoing the service component of the A-Sun's mission of Building Winners for Life.

"You chase your personal dreams, and you should go after them with everything that you have. Maybe you will achieve some of them, or perhaps you will be fortunate enough to achieve all of them," Sutton said. "But then after you have done that you say, 'Is this all this was really about?' and begin to think about "what can I do to make a difference in other people's lives?'"

Off the course Sutton has been an impactful community member, receiving awards such as the Omar N. Bradley Spirit of Independence Award and The Payne Stewart Award. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Christus Schumpert Sutton Children's Hospital in Shreveport, La., a five-story wing with 80 beds following the death of his agent's seven-year-old daughter from spinal meningitis. Sutton also shared the Golf Writers Association of America's 2006 Charlie Bartlett Award with Louisianans Kelly Gibson and David Toms for their combined $2 million-plus in aid to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita victims.

"That is one of the things of which I am most proud, which includes some what we were able to do in Hurricane Katrina relief in the aftermath. Then we helped open a Children's Hospital in Shreveport. Those are the efforts where you know that what you did affected someone else's life in a positive way."