After Ropin’ Alligators, How Tough Can Tiger Be? – Thomas Brent Weekley – Interview
The Blackwater River runs across the scrubby western flatlands of the Florida panhandle, there under Alabama, half a morning’s drive from the bayous of Mississippi and Louisiana, so deep into the Deep South that any deeper you’re in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Granddaddy’s place is on the Blackwater,” says Boo Weekley, “which means that hurricanes, bad storms, the like, blow alligators up by the porch. They get to chasin’ our cows and dogs. Now, it’s against the law to do what we do, which is catch ’em and move ’em on, but sometimes you gotta take matters into your own hands, y’know?”
First thing you do with storm-tossed alligators, Boo Weekley says, is loop a rope around their snouts. Then you throw ’em in the back of your mud-runnin’ pickup. As for the swamp-country truth that alligators put up a big fight, Boo Weekley smiles, because he loves this part where he gets to say, all 6 feet, 190 pounds of him, “Two, three boys like me on ’em, them gators ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Such a name, Boo Weekley.
And that voice. Such a thang, such a sweet and open and country thang.
To hear Boo Weekley is to hear starry midnight in the backwoods, owls hootin’, critters creepin’ as country boys do what country boys do, which means, “At the camp house on the river, ain’t nobody messin’ with you. If you want to step out on the back porch and take a leak, you step out, take a leak. If you want to shoot your gun out there onto the river, you shoot your gun. It’s peace and quiet, y’know?”
Wonders follow wonders in this world, few more delightful than that wrought by Thomas Brent Weekley, known as Boo because of a childhood fascination with the Yogi Bear TV cartoon character Boo-Boo.
Boo Weekley has come in from the campfire to play the 2002 PGA Tour. He’s teeing it up with the city folk. He’s walking where Tiger Woods walks.
Only he doesn’t walk in fancy shoes. Real golf shoes hurt his feet, so Weekley plays in sneakers. Most times he ties the laces. Cotton and polyester exacerbate a skin disease on his right leg. (“Maybe got it rubbin’ against my granddaddy’s cow.”) To abide by tour rules against players wearing shorts, he wears rain pants.
There’s the snuff issue as well, dip stuffed inside his lower lip.
“A bad deal. Tryin’ to quit.”
His mother, Patsy Weekley, sighs. Her son’s first baseball and golf coach, she may be his most-trusted swing adviser. She has, however, surrendered on fashion.
“I’d prefer Boo be elegantly dressed,” she says. “At home he has the Polo sweaters, Polo shirts, Polo slacks, all the Tommy Hilfiger stuff, even Hilfiger socks. But he prefers shorts and T-shirts. ‘Mom,’ he says, ‘I’m not going to a fashion show, I’m going to play golf.’ This is him.”
Weekley’s take: “I know I look like ‘Caddyshack,’ and you do want to look presentable when you show up at a big, big tournament, like the U.S. Open or Masters.
“But what I’m wearin’ shouldn’t matter. My golf game speaks for itself and who I am. I ain’t there to please people puttin’ out negative vibes. I ain’t worried about nobody but myself.” We sat by a snack bar. A golfer passed.
“There,” Weekley says, laughing.
The golfer’s pants were a camouflage print.
“I’d like to play in camouflage.”
Here, such a smile.
A guy could sell that smile, which is why David Hill, long his friend and competitor on the mini-tours, now is Weekley’s agent. “Boo is Roy Hobbs, ‘The Natural,’ a nobody from nowhere,” Hill says. “He’s Roy McAvoy from ‘Tin Cup,’ all that talent and where’s he been? He’s Crocodile Dundee, who may go to a snazzy hotel and wind up sleeping on the floor. On top of it all, he’s one helluva golfer.”
Such a prospect: Hobbs/McAvoy/Dundee in the form of a tobacco-chewing country boy named Boo, wearing his deer hunter’s camouflage as he stalks the wilds of Amen Corner.
It’s only a little more far-fetched than this piece of reality: a 28-year-old career mini-tour nomad with a pitching wedge in hand, his future to be decided by the next swing. Boo Weekley came to that moment in Q school last December.
Par at the last hole would earn his PGA Tour card. Double bogey would send him to the minor-league Buy.com Tour. If he didn’t know the difference, he soon learned it. His misses fly left, sometimes way left. Left on this hole, a water hazard, double bogey. So when Weekley’s 137-yard wedge shot sat down 25 feet from the cup, his caddie, veteran mini-tour developer Jack Slocum, said, “That was a million-dollar swing, and you don’t know it yet.”
“What are you talking about?” Weekley said.
“You’ll find out as soon as you sign your scorecard.”
First came the 25-foot putt, and when Weekley slapped it too hard, he shouted, “Oh, s—-, hit a chicken truck.”
No chicken truck on the green, the ball bounced off the back of the cup. Tap-in par. And with 36 men earning tour cards, Weekley tied for 23rd, there with prodigy Ty Tryon, a shot to spare.
“Those last holes, grindin’ like that,” Weekley said, “my body was in motion, but my mind wasn’t workin’. It was Jack who kept me straight. When we finished, if I’d been the last guy puttin’ out, I’d have shot off, hollerin’ and hootin’, doin’ a cartwheel and swan dive right out in the middle of that water. I wanted to cry so hard.”
Eight years earlier, he quit junior college and borrowed money from his father, Tom, owner of Weekley’s Pharmacy in Milton, Fla. (pop. 8,700). He had saved $5,000 from his job at a chemical plant.
“With that, and drawin’ my unemployment pennies, I chased my golf,” Weekley says. On mini-tours he became the most obscure of golf stars. The last four seasons, he won 26 times.
Twice, though, in 1997 and 2000, he failed to get past Q school’s first of three stages. What’s different now is fatherhood. Last summer his wife, Karyn, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Thomas Parker Weekley.
“Havin’ this young’un made me settle down. I used to be just carefree, out there playin’, even if it was lightnin’, no matter. Now, if it’s lightnin’, we get on in the house. I got something I need to live for.”
If not $1 million immediately, Weekley’s PGA Tour card means “$500,000 for Boo now, with more coming,” Jack Slocum says. When his Q school check for $25,000 came in the mail, Boo Weekley held it up for his wife.
“Look at this, baby,” he said.
“What? It’s a check,” Karyn said.
“No, look at this.”
She did and then she said, “Holy s—-.”
He said, “I was thinking the same thing.”
“You all right?” she said.
“Why’re you cryin’ then?”
“Baby, look at this check. There’s people work a whole year don’t make that kind of money. They’re payin’ me to do somethin’ I love to do.”
COPYRIGHT 2002 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group