E.A. Sports Today

Twig at 20

Wigington has played in half of the Sunny King Charity Classic tournaments and won more than anyone. What’s the motivation going forward? The next win

Ty Cole and Gary Wigington proudly display the champions trophy after winning the Sunny King Charity Classic in 2016 (left) and 2017.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When he stops and really thinks about it, Gary Wigington doesn’t really know why he never played in the Sunny King Charity Classic before good friend Randy Reaves pitched him in the hallway of the Calhoun County Courthouse in 1999.

Now, after 19 years of Tiger-Woods-in-his-prime-like domination the only question that seems to remain for the tournament’s all-time winningest player is what’s left out there? Where is the motivation when it comes to the Classic?

The answer is as simple as a three-inch putt, really – the next one.

Wigington tees it up in the Classic for the 20th time Friday with Ty Cole as the event goes off for the 40th time with a full field at Silver Lakes, Cider Ridge Golf Club and Anniston Country Club. His anticipation and aspirations are as fresh as ever. His focus, as always, is on what lies ahead, not behind.

“Every year, you don’t think about your past wins, you just want to do your very best and try to win it again this year, especially the older we get it just gets harder,” Wigington said. “We don’t have quite the edge we had few years ago and there are a lot of younger guys playing who are good players so every win now is kind of more precious than the early ones because it’s much harder now.

“Every win now is probably more precious than the ones in the past because you know your number of wins in the future is not going to be that many more. Every one going forward is a big plus because you know at some point you’re not going to be as competitive and be able to do it any more.”

That concept is hard to grasp given the current state of these partners’ games; if it happens at all it would seem closer to the distant future than the near one. Wigington continues to be the best player in Calhoun County, his partner is the best player on the Calhoun County Golf Tour and their partnership shows no sign of doing a Mickelson and Mackay any time soon.

Wigington has won the Classic more times than anyone in its history – seven – and is part of all kinds of records. The carrot dangling in front of him in this year’s 40th Classic, where they’ll be heavy favorites, is the chance to become the first player in tournament history to three-peat twice – and with two different partners.

Even without that his resume is deserving of a spot in the SKCC Hall of Fame.

In addition to the seven wins – eight, if you want to count a Championship B title in 2009 – he has been a runner-up four times (twice in playoffs); that’s 58 percent of the time he’s either first or second. He’s never been worse than 10th overall since 2007 and since 2010 no worse than fourth.

The cumulative score of his seven wins: 252-under-par. The cumulative margin of victory in those wins: 29 shots. Three of the wins set modern-era tournament scoring records.

He and Reaves were the first champions under the current tournament scoring system to win with a score in the 30s (2000), and only one winning team has fallen below the mark since (them the next year). He and Cole set the all-time scoring record in any format their first year together in 2016 (43-under) and won each of the last two years with scores in the 40s that once was thought an impossible threshold.

They’ve shot a record final-day best-ball 57s at Anniston Country Club the last two years.

Of course, he’s proud of that history, modestly calling it “a good accomplishment.”

“We have so much fun that whole weekend,” Wigington said. “I get geared up more for this tournament than probably any tournament, to be honest with you. It’s a huge event and it’s always fun; there’s so much more to it than any other weekend you play all year long. It’s just something I’ve always put a lot of work towards and practice in to get ready for compared to most other events.

“I’m not really much of a history buff, I just think about the next time (to play). I probably will look back one day and think, man, that was pretty good, but right now you’re just caught up in the moment of trying to win this year.”

Eric Hamilton and Patrick Cushman were the first team to win three SKCC titles in a row, in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Wigington and Reaves ruined their bid to do it again when they won in 2000 – the first of their own three in a row.

Wigington and Reaves won it twice more before Reaves stepped aside in 2013 to give his partner a better chance to put the all-time tournament wins record into the stratosphere. That came over the last two years when he teamed with Cole, tying Reaves in 2016 and passing his former partner last year.

Part of the reason Wigington and Cole have been so good together is their games are so complementary. Given their ball-striking skills they’re basically playing their own ball through the scramble format rounds and they’re so battled tested there’s not much that will make them nervous in the best ball format on Championship Sunday.

“More than anything else for me it just relieves some pressure,” Cole said. “If you’re a good player and you go play in a tournament like this with a player that just doesn’t have the shots you have or the talent you have you’re supposed to carry 90 percent of the weight and hope somebody chips in or helps along the way.

“When you’ve got pretty much two equal players … you don’t have to worry if you hit one that’s not quite what you want; you know that guy is more than capable of hitting every shot you can hit.”

And that’s a good thing when you’re on the same side.

“I think it’s good for us,” Cole said. “We play all year trying to beat the hell out of each other. A lot of times on the (Calhoun County) Tour it’s a lot of head-to-head me and him and couple other guys.

“Even though it’s friendly we’re still competitors and we still want to win; there’s a bunch of us out there who want to win. To have one weekend out of the year where you can actually pull for a guy who’s trying to beat you all year it makes it fun.”

SKCC Championships
2000 with Randy Reaves (-34)
2001 with Randy Reaves (-29)
2002 with Randy Reaves (-35)
2007 with Randy Reaves (-33)
2012 with Randy Reaves (-38)
2016 with Ty Cole (-43)
2017 with Ty Cole (-40)

2005 with Randy Reaves
2010 with Randy Reaves (in playoff)
2013 with Randy Reaves
2014 with Freeman Fite (in playoff)

Cover photo by B.J. Franklin. Be sure to check out a photo gallery from the weekend’s action each day at www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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