Alabama-Flavored Nutmeg State Affair

The Nutmeg State of Connecticut hosted the Travelers Championship PGA Tour event at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell last week. In the field were two former Alabama golfers who have distinguished themselves recently--Steve Lowery for his career athletic achievements and Michael Thompson for being invited to play at the The Masters and earning the lowest amateur score at the U. S. Open.

The primary focus of the Travelers was on the golf tournament and several with Alabama ties. (In addition to the Crimson Tide alums, the tournament was won by Alabama native Stewart Cink.)

Celebrity guests featured at Wednesday's Pro-Am included a 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, a former Heisman Trophy winner, and an Academy Award winning actor whose court room dialogue with an Alabama judge forever changed the pronunciation of the word "youths." Each divulged a story with an Alabama flavor before he ventured onto the golf course.

Former Pro Bowl New England Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett reflected upon his birthplace, Birmingham, Alabama, where he still has family. He lived there until he was seven years old before his mother moved the family north to Newark, New Jersey. His Alabama roots resonated with him. "You're talking about good folk," he said. "You could say ‘good people,' but a lot of good folk down there," he emphasized. "You had a lot of people who looked out for you and it truly was a community that looked after their own. I learned a lot of values, especially from my grandmother. What's right, what's wrong and being accountable for things. All that stuff has helped me in my life and I'm 48 years old and I still look back to some of the lessons that were told to me and I use them."

Questioned about the late former University of Alabama All-America and All-Pro Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas's worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Tippett said, "Derrick Thomas was like a little brother to me and a great, great kid. It was a shame we lost him at such an early period of his life because he still had a lot of great football left to play for Kansas City. He was a great kid. I think that Derrick absolutely warrants Hall of Fame consideration. It's something where you wish you could bring a whole group of guys in at once. I guess they have their limits on how many people they can bring in, but eventually Derrick's going to get in. He did a lot of good things for football. He's a kid who respected the history of football. The people whose shoulders he was standing as well as I. He had appreciation for that history." Tippett, the former Iowa standout, is executive director of Community Affairs for the Patriots.

Former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie recalled his two meetings against the Crimson Tide, especially the Friday after Thanksgiving 1983 contest played in Foxboro under extreme weather conditions ranging from rain, sleet, hail and finally snow flakes. "In fact it was so cold and wet the lights went out at halftime," Flutie said. "I sprinted to the locker room because I was freezing. I stripped down up top and got under a hand warmer trying to dry off so I could change my stuff underneath at halftime. All the electricity in the building went out. I thought it was because of something I was doing, of course, but it ended up where that game almost had to get called late in the third quarter, early fourth because it was getting dark and they finally got the power back on.

"I remember kind of just getting through it because of the weather," the former USFL, Canadian and NFL quarterback recollected. "I remember Brian Brennan, one of our receivers, making just a phenomenal catch to keep a drive going. Maybe it was inside the 15-yard line or so which wound up being our winning drive. He went up high, caught it, got hit and hung on which to me was the play of the game. I remember Steve DeOssie (LB) ripping his shirt off underneath and showing his stomach trying to be tough and showing the Bama guys this isn't cold. I was cold (laughing)."

Prime time television hosted the Saturday September 1984, season opener at Birmingham's Legion Field. Alabama was eager to erase the severe inclement weather loss against the BC Eagles but Flutie recalled the comeback win. "I remember Troy Stradford (RB) busting a long run for the go ahead score after we'd come back and actually seeing my little brother (Darren) as a freshmen receiver getting down field and throwing a block on the play which was cool. The biggest factor in that game was the fact that Kerry Goode got hurt. He ran the opening kick-off the second half back for a touchdown that put us down by 17 points I believe at the time (31-14). We were in trouble. And then all of a sudden he disappeared out of the game and we didn't know why but he was hurt. We just came on back."

Goode suffered a season ending knee injury on a third quarter sweep play.

"The other thing was they substituted," Flutie said. "They put a backup quarterback (Vince Sutton) in for a little while once they got up big and he threw a critical interception. Tony Thurman, our All-American free safety had three interceptions that day, the last to ice the game. But I think that (interception) was also a momentum thing that they put some subs in and we made a big play that kept us in the game. I remember Cornelius (Bennett) the game down in Birmingham blindsiding me and the ball flying out. We were doing something completely wrong pass protection-wise because he came untouched like three different times off the edge."

Joe Pesci still must be having flashbacks from the comedic clash of cultures cinematic classic, "My Cousin Vinny" where he played a novice New York lawyer brought to Alabama to defend his cousin and friend. Asked if he had ever visited the state of Alabama, he replied, "Yeah, I think I actually drove through it a couple of times. I drove slowly. I didn't want to get stopped." The movie was actually filmed in Georgia.

Former University of Alabama golfer and long time PGA Tour member, Steve Lowery, recently earned membership to another prestigious group. "Bill Legg (ASHOF Executive Director) called me and told me that I'd been nominated for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, which is a tremendous honor," Lowery said. "I was really happy to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame." Receiving word of his pending induction, he called his parents with the good news. They were present to accept the award on behalf of Lowery, who was unable to attend the ceremony due his commitment to the Memorial Tournament, where he finished sixth.

Lowery's February victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gave him a two-year exemption. He said, "I'm going to play on this tour as long as I can even if I'm older than 50 as long as I'm competitive and able to feel like I can win on this tour and compete." Lowery remains undefeated in playoffs where he has earned his three PGA Tour career wins. "I think I focus a little better but maybe I need to focus during the tournaments so I can get in without a playoff," he said. "I seem to focus really well in the playoffs and I've been fortunate to win."

Lowery listed his goals. "I would love to make the Ryder Cup team," he said. "Obviously I'd have to win again to do that. I'd like to be top 30 on the money list. The best I've ever done is 12th (1994), so I'd like to get into the top ten. That would be great."

College football seeps into the discussion among PGA Tour members occasionally. Lowery said, "Everybody thinks Alabama's going to be a lot better than they have been and I'd have to agree with that." After heading to the clubhouse on Thursday tied with three others for an opening round lead of -6 (64), Lowery finished the tournament tied for 45th with a four day total of 275.

Amateur Michael Thompson, recent Alabama graduate playing with a sponsor's exemption, made the second day cut at a 8-under par, two shots off the lead. The next two days weren't as kind to the young man from Tucson as he finished tied for 59th with a 277 total score. He was not in any way discouraged by the outcome of the week's results. He said, "This is fun, playing on the PGA Tour. I look forward to hopefully coming back out here and getting a check at the end of the week [after he turns professional]. That will make me feel a little bit better especially like days after today. I think eventually I will make my way out here (PGA Tour). I don't know if I'm ready yet. I'm definitely ready for pro golf. I just don't know what stage yet. I'll just keep working."

His next stop is Glasgow, Scotland, as he will represent the United States along with seven other top American collegians in the 2008 Palmer Cup, June 26-27 against their European counterparts. Following his return, he will take some time off to settle into an apartment in Birmingham. The southwestern-bred golfer has elected to live in Birmingham because "It's close to The University. There are a lot of alumni there. I really enjoy the South. I think it will be fun."

Lowery, a Birmingham native, also lives in the Magic City.

Thompson intends to make his professional debut at the U. S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee July 17-20 if a sponsor's exemption is available. If for some reason one is unavailable he is guaranteed a place in the second-year Nationwide Tour's Children's Hospital Invitational July 24-27 in Columbus, Ohio. He will also attempt to enter a couple of other tournaments.

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