State of the Hogs: Paul Eells
This is supposed to be a fun event Thursday. It will be the last golf -- maybe for the year -- for most there, probably. There won't be many real golfers there, so there will be laughter at the many bad shots. For some, it's a once a year golf outing.
It's the day the Arkansas head football coach invites the media to a golf outing in Fayetteville, presumably the last day of relaxation before everyone gets back to work.
This will be the first time for the outing to be played at Paradise Valley Golf Club. It was scheduled for there last year, but a thunderstorm washed it out. Previously, it was played at Stonebridge Meadows. I'm a little glad we aren't going back to Stonebridge.
It doesn't have anything to do with the course. It's a fine layout. I toured it when architect Randy Heckenkemper, an old friend, was putting it together a decade or so ago. My opinion of Randy's work hasn't changed. Superb.
But I can't keep the sad feelings away every time I pull into (and especially out of) the parking lot at Stonebridge, more for this event. It's the last place I saw Paul Eells alive. Actually, I was the last to see Paul alive, period.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It is hard to believe it's been four years since Paul and I hugged as we were putting our golf clubs away in the parking lot, our vehicles parked side by side.
Paul was a hugger. He would hug you every time he left you, if he had his way. He gave me that typical Eells bear wrap that evening. It followed a near 100-degree day and we were both covered with sweat. He left that evening and was killed in a car wreck on I-40 as he passed through Russellville.
The other thing I remember that evening beside his hug was the way Paul trashed his golf game as we were putting away our clubs. He was like that. He'd put himself down.
He liked to say he was at the end of a mediocre career in broadcasting. He told me that afternoon that he probably was just going to do one more year as UA football play-by-play man. He voiced that he believed he had slipped and didn't want to do anything that would be tough on the athletic department, as in stay too long.
Paul was like an uncle, the nicest uncle you've ever had. You know, that favorite uncle that would pull you aside at family reunions to check on you up close and personal. You knew he cared when he asked those personal questions. He asked about your children, by name.
I remember special times with Paul on the golf course. He played in a regular game for many years with my father, Harry King and Jim Elder. Sometimes when I was a visitor in town, I'd get an invite. It was the kind of group that everyone pulled for each other even with money riding.
Paul praised almost every shot, sometimes so quickly that he was wrong. I can remember hitting plenty that looked good for a few seconds, before the spin took them to the trees. Paul had already exclaimed, "Great shot, Clay!" You knew better, but still appreciated that he was cheering you on.
The best story came about my father the first time Paul joined that group. They were playing at North Hills Country Club in Sylvan Hills. Paul hit a low one in the heel that cleared a little low spot off the first tee, then darted into some rough/rocks short of the tree line. It was playable and not horrible, but far from one of Paul's better hits.
Most have played in groups where two shots are allowed off the first tee, especially when there wasn't time for a proper warmup. There was a practice range at North Hills, but these men often played at the crack of dawn. They wanted to be first off and would play fast, in time to get to the office before lunch. They all worked nights.
Paul told me a few years later that while he was digging in his front pocket for another ball for a second try that first morning, he heard my father from the back of the tee.
"Your Pops didn't take mulligans," Paul said. "He told me, 'Paul, you gonna play or you gonna practice?' I knew right then I liked your dad. He was clear that we were going to play real golf."
Paul Eells was a real man. I miss him a lot and think about him often. But I'll be thinking about him more Thursday, especially when I put my golf clubs away at the end of the day.
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