Carter Mize finally made the phone call he knew was probably inevitable. The demands of work were too great for him to accept the invitation to play in the Southeastern Amateur, which begins Wednesday at the Country Club of Columbus. So on Tuesday, Mize had to call and give his regrets.
"I kind of have an itch right now, but work is real demanding. It's taking all of my waking time for the most part," Mize said. "I really would like to play a little more than I'm playing."
But there's no sense in letting a good chat go to waste. We had a chance recently to catch up and reflect on the game that Mize loves so dearly, even if his opportunities to play are infrequent. It's a pleasure to visit any time with Mize, a genuine gentleman. But this occasion was especially relevant with the announcement a few weeks ago that he will be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame early next year. The selection came as a complete shock. Mize was with his close friend and playing partner, Wright Waddell, preparing for the state Four-Ball Championship in Cartersville when a tournament official asked to speak with him in private.
"You never anticipate anything when you're naïve and potentially ignorant as to how things work," Mize said. "I thought I'd done something wrong. Maybe my application was wrong. Maybe my handicap, since I don't play enough to post scores, maybe I've done something wrong. He got his cell phone out and he still didn't tell me what he was doing."
Then came the news via conference call. Mize was asked not to tell anyone other than his family. He granted an exception to Waddell.
"I think he was more excited for me than I was. We just have that real unique friendship and bond, players who competed against each other but played together. We've always pulled for one another. So he was real excited."
"He's very deserving," Waddell said. "He can still play. I wish he could play more because he can still get it done."
Their amateur careers are inseparable. Mize and Waddell have won the Four-Ball four times. There was a stretch where they were fixtures on the Southeastern leaderboard. Between 1989 through 2003, Waddell and Mize won six of the 14 tournaments (it wasn't held in 2002). Mize won two State Amateur tournaments (1993-94) while Waddell won two Mid-Amateurs (1990, '99). Mize is right when he says Waddell "absolutely" deserves to be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
"It's just a matter of time," Mize said.
Mize and Waddell have been playing together since their days at Hardaway. Now 52, their opportunities to play are less frequent, but just as enjoyable as ever.
"We're both just complementing each other with bad shots," Mize joked. "We just try to minimize the bad shots and hopefully they don't have squares around the numbers as opposed to circles. It's hit or miss. What we do do consistently is have a good time. We laugh. It's not that we're not trying. We're trying our hardest. If we're not going good, we're bothered by it as we've ever been. But at least we've learned to be able to look at each other and laugh and give each other a hard time."
That's a perspective Mize had to learn the hard way. At Auburn, he burned himself out on the game and stopped playing for 18 months. The influence of club pros Charlie Harper and Richard Crawford helped him rediscover his love for golf. But keeping the game in perspective has made it easier for him to put the clubs away at times. More important to him has been to be involved with his children's lives -- Mallory, Carter and Jack. But now his daughter has graduated from Auburn and Carter is a senior. Jack will begin at Auburn in the fall.
Chronic shoulder problems that developed six years ago have subsided. He's three years away from being eligible from senior amateur events. He'd rather the age limit be 50 like it is for the pros. But it could work in his favor.
"Hopefully, that may be a blessing for me," he said. "Maybe in three years, things at work will be a little more calm, a little more settled, a little more consistently in a positive mode where you're not just reacting and hanging on and making decisions just to survive. From a timing standpoint, that may be good for me."
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org