E.A. Sports Today

Back in the game

Veteran Wilborn returns to competitive golf after illness, plays first individual stroke-play event in comeback this weekend at ACC

Gary Wilborn moves into his drive on the 6/15 tee at Anniston Municipal Golf Course.

Gary Wilborn moves into his drive on the 6/15 tee at Anniston Municipal Golf Course.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The short game may not be what it once was, but he still hits it as far as ever from the tees he’s playing now. The best part about it, though, he’s back on the golf course.

Gary Wilborn, the first Calhoun County Player of the Year, was playing his first competitive round since suffering a stroke two and a half years ago in the Calhoun County Four-Ball/Scramble two weeks ago and his appearance at Anniston Municipal was as welcome to the field as watching a long birdie putt disappear into the cup.

“It’s great to see him out, back being able to play; there’s nobody who loves golf any more than he does,” said Ott Chandler, his long-time golf partner with whom he won countless tournaments including two Sunny King Classics. “It’s a miracle he’s alive and a blessing that he’s playing.

“I told people a year ago he’d never play golf again and to see what he’s come through in the last year, it’s amazing. It’s great to see him out here.”

Get used to it. Wilborn is in the field for this weekend’s Wilfred Galbraith Anniston Country Club Invitational — the first individual stroke play event since his return — and he’s considering playing in the Sunny King Charity Classic later this summer “if I find somebody who understand the deal.”

Wilborn was one of the best players in the county when he fell ill in October 2013 shortly after beating Grant Hockman to become the oldest winner of the Calhoun County Match Play title. Doctors in the ER gave him only a 10 percent chance of getting back in the game of life let alone golf. He was hospitalized 80 days.

But he’s persevered and, at 59, is back playing the game. He was going to make his competitive return at the Calhoun County Two-Man at Silver Lakes with Lewis Lecroy in March and was in the field until weather concerns prompted his withdrawing at the last minute.

And at first he wasn’t sure he wanted to play in the Four-Ball when James Ramey asked him because he wants to be competitive and didn’t know that he could. But then he figured “this might be the last time we get to do this” and called to say he was in. They were calling for bad weather that weekend, too, but he was so excited about the opportunity he didn’t even think about it this time.

He was there, he admitted, “more for nostalgia than anything.” He and Ramey finished tied for seventh in the Championship B flight with two rounds of 2-under-par.

“We didn’t expect a whole lot, but we enjoyed it,” he said.

The first Calhoun County Player of the Year admits there are “so many” things he can’t do now that he used to – on and off the golf course – and the fact he’s not as competitive as he once was distresses him.

When he plays now it’s usually from the senior tees, much to the chagrin of his friends who know the player that still lurks within. He can still hit the ball a long way off the tee — and on occasion outdrove his younger playing partners in the Four-Ball — and his putting is as sharp as ever, but he hits a lot of fat shots with his irons because of depth perception issues and worries now whether he can chip it close to have a decent putt.

“A lot of the guys I play with don’t think I should be up there,” he said. “There’s nothing I would love more than to show up at the golf course and say I’m back here with the blue tees ready to compete with you.”

Count Kevin Daugherty as one of the players who are with him on that.

“You can tell over the past eight months or so that he’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger and he’s hitting it better and better and better,” said Daugherty, the former Anniston Country Club pro who was in Wilborn’s foursome in the opening-round of the Four-Ball. “His chipping and putting is like it always was. He can chip and putt as good as anybody out here and he’s gotten all that back. It’s really cool to see somebody come back like that.”

It was important to Wilborn to get back on the course because both of his sons, Janson and Chandler, play and the game has been such a big part of his life. “It was hard sitting back hearing about them play all the time,” he said.

He finally picked up a club in September on a family trip to Destin. The first ball he actually hit on his comeback was on the range at Indian Bayou and he has been playing in friendly games with friends regularly ever since.

“I’m happy to be out there and see all the people I used to see,” he said. “It makes me feel good to be out there. You know what they say, a day on the golf course is better than any day anywhere else.”

Friday’s pairings

9:30 a.m. – Jono Waugh, Jake Goggans, David Coffey, Chance Harris
9:40 – Charlie Smith, Eric Stringer, Trey Stone, Chris Weaver
9:50 – Ott Chandler, Dalton Chandler, Cypress Hathorn
10:00 – Brian Woodfin, Freeman Fite, Kevin Daugherty, Kyle Daugherty
10:10 – Lance Evans, Chad Calvert, Mike Little, David Sanders
10:20 – Jeremy McGatha, Landon Straub, Matt Rogers, Kenneth Patterson
10:50 – Jonathan Pate, Hunter Brown, Erich Egui, James Reavis
11:00 – Ty Cole, Luke Armstrong, David Lawrence, Chad Reavis
11:10 – Daily Thomas, Adrian Geeting, Greg Shultz, Dr. Victor Kyatt
11:20 – Chandler Wilborn, Janson Wilborn, Rick Taylor, Gary Wilborn
11:30 – Heath Waldrop, Clay Calkins, Chip Howell, Tom Roberts
Noon – Casey Harmon, Don Springer, Gary Wigington, Caleb McKinney
12:30 p.m. – Jeremy Willis, Hank Smith, Jeff Borrelli
1:00 – Ryan Huff, Chase Thomas, Timmy Woodard
1:30 – Austin Minter, Allen Mangham, Billy Thompson, Jerry Kemp
1:40 – Ross Svensen, Jack Svensen, Eric Lett
2:00 – Kenny Wright, Dan Griffin, Dan McClellan
2:10 – Lewis Lecrow, Jacob Lecroy, Dustin Travis, Mickey Travis
2:20 – Scott Martin, Brandon Roberts, Richard Turner



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