Don’t know what came first, the aroma of barbecue smoking on the grill or the chatter of excited kids bouncing off the walls.
Waiting for a table, we learned that the gaggle of youngsters was a soccer team having its season-ending party at Country’s.
Handing out trophies was a parent who that week could have been among the beautiful people at a country club where PGA Tour golfers competed for fat paychecks with lots of zeroes.
Only Larry Mize chose to be in a restaurant back home surrounded by children — his and others — members of a soccer team that played for joy rather than glory.
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That’s Larry Mize, and that’s why he deserves to be called a hero in a world of sports where that four-letter word is used to describe athletes who make the gossip columns and pop up on the police blotter.
Last weekend, the TV replay of Mize celebrating victory in the 1987 Masters was rerun more than once. It marked the breakdown of Greg Norman as much as an improbable shot that gave our neighbor a green jacket and a reserved seat in the history of a golf tournament the world reveres more than any other.
We spent the weekend watching the drama of Tiger and Lefty, the unfulfilled dream of an Old School competitor and the emergence of a roly-poly guy from Argentina. But this was also the year that Larry Mize reminded us he still matters.
His ailing shoulder has healed. On the courses at the Country Club of Columbus and Green Island, he has retooled the steady game that once made him a winner.
Mize recently joined the Champions Tour but for a week at Augusta National he was among younger players with six-pack abs and million-dollar endorsements. He made the cut, and, when it was done on Sunday, he was in 30th place and a stroke under par.
Mize kept a diary for Masters.com, and it reflected the man whose words were posted on the Internet. There was no talk of 4-star dining. Mize wrote about chicken fingers, his wife’s eggs and sandwiches at the golf course.
He dropped few names, other than Bonnie and their sons, David, Patrick and Robert. He talked about staying with his parents in nearby Evans and how they quietly celebrated Easter.
“It’s a pretty tight fit, but we all love being together and it’s a fun weekend,” he wrote. “In fact, after my round, I had to check on who was going home with who and who was staying here while I putted for a while.”
These are among the reasons I consider Larry Mize a hero. He performs on the big stage but he comes home from work like the rest of us. He participates in the community in which he lives, able to leave behind postcard-perfect golf courses and events that furnish a car to drive.
In his case, the hero isn’t the golfer presented a green blazer by Jack Nicklaus. The hero is the father presenting awards at a kids’ soccer banquet.
In this world, Larry Mize remains a champion.
Richard Hyatt also is found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.