Sports

Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: Jimmy Blanchard driven to succeed

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com 
 Jim Blanchard, retired Synovus chairman and CEO, is a member of the class of 2016 Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. 02.05.16
ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Jim Blanchard, retired Synovus chairman and CEO, is a member of the class of 2016 Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. 02.05.16

The game Jimmy Blanchard learned as a kid at the Valdosta Country Club and on golf courses across the Southeast, has served him well as he moved through in life.

On the golf course, competing against the top junior players in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, he learned competitiveness, resolve and the value of hard work and relationships. He was good enough to play on three high school state championship teams and earned two varsity letters at the University of Georgia.

"First, the best friends I have today were guys I played high school and college golf with," Blanchard said recently. "There is a bond you get in highly competitive athletics that goes beyond what most people get to experience. You learn winning gracefully and you learn losing and dealing with defeat. I think it is an incredibly valuable part of your world view you develop about the rest of your life."

The rest of Blanchard's life is the story of an attorney-turned-bank executive who led one of the top regional banks in the Southeast. On Feb. 20, he will add Hall of Famer to his business titles of president, chief executive officer and chairman.

Blanchard goes into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame with a class that includes endurance athlete Cecil Cheves, cheerleading coach Pam Carter, former Spencer High School basketball coach and tennis player Speedy Gilstrap and former Carver High School and Ohio State University football star Tim Walton.

The Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame is loaded with top-flight professional and amateur golfers. Larry Mize won the Masters, held at Augusta National, where Blanchard is a member. Hugh Royer Jr. was a PGA Tour player and winner as well as the longtime pro at Bull Creek Golf Course. Longtime Country Club of Columbus pro Fred Haskins has been honored for his impact on the game. The local amateurs in Chattahoochee Valley hall include Bill Ploeger, Wright Waddell, Jack Key III, Billy Key and coach and youth golf advocate Bill Godwin.

Blanchard said joining that group is special.

"Frankly, most of those guys have had careers that in my opinion far exceeded any golfing career I ever had," he said, "although I was in the midst of all of it. Another thing that was probably positive to my selection is I have been involved in golf beyond my competitive playing days. I was the chairman of Walker Cup -- which is the biggest amateur event in golf -- when it was held at Ocean Forest in 2001. Being one of the announcers on the first tee at Augusta is a unique opportunity to be in the middle of golf at the highest level."

James Blanchard is among the Class of 2016 inductees into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. In this video clip Blanchard reflects on the lessons and courtesies he learned on the golf course as a young golfer that apply both on and off

Even before Blanchard learned to play the game, he fell in love with it. The family lived in Augusta until he was 8 and his father, James W. Blanchard, was a marshal during the Masters tournament at Augusta National.

"I was 6 or 7 years old when I went to my first Masters," Blanchard remembered. "My father was in the Augusta Jaycees, and they were the marshals. He would go to the tournament, leave me and go to his duty station."

Young Jimmy was on his own to wander the storied grounds.

"I would go to the practice tee and wait for Ben Hogan," Blanchard said. "He would come hit his balls before the round and I would literally follow him and I did that for at least two years, if not three. Back then, you only had ropes around the tees and greens. You could walk close to Ben Hogan down the fairway."

James Blanchard is among the Class of 2016 inductees into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. In this video clip Blanchard reflects on how, as a young boy, he was able to closely follow Ben Hogan around the course at Augusta National Gol

It wasn't long before Blanchard learned to play the game, but it didn't start with his own clubs and hours of lessons. When he 8 years old, his father made sure that he learned to play the game the right way.

"He said you got to caddy a year before you play," Blanchard remembered.

So the boy put golf bags for adult members on a pull cart, and for an entire year he toted someone else's clubs.

"I became a regular caddy for a Superior Court judge, Omer Franklin," Blanchard said. "He became a Court of Appeals judge. He used to call me quarterback."

Blanchard also learned the gentleman's side of the game.

"I learned the courtesies of golf and the principles of behavior on the golf course," he said. "I also learned about distances, the rules to a certain extent, just the basics. I learned a lot. It was the wisdom my father had of having a year as an apprentice before I started playing."

Blanchard became a solid junior golfer. When he was 11, he played against another south Georgia kid, Ploeger, who now lives in Columbus.

"He's always been a good player," Ploeger said. "I know he's known more for business and as president of the bank, but he was always good on the golf course. And he still is a good player."

Blanchard's competitive golf career reached its zenith in high school ­-- seriously.

In 1956 and 1957, he played on Georgia High School Association state championship teams at Valdosta High School. He was the No. 4 player as a freshman and No. 3 as a sophomore.

He was set on a team that was loaded with talent.

Between his sophomore and junior years, the Blanchards moved from south Georgia to Columbus, where his father was becoming president of Columbus Bank and Trust Co.

Jimmy did not like the idea.

"You and mama might be moving, but I am not moving," he told his father. "He said,  'Why not?' I said, 'I have been on two state championship golf teams and we are going to have an even better team next year. I need to stay down here and compete in Valdosta.' He said, 'That will be fine, I will get you an apartment.' "

That was the end of that discussion.

His junior year, Blanchard was the No. 1 golfer on a Columbus High team that won the state title. His new school defeated his old school, Valdosta, en route to that title. As a senior, the Blue Devils finished third in the state. He won the individual Region 3-AAA title as a junior and was runner-up his senior season.

"My recollection is I came in second that year to a fellow named Bunky Henry, who turned professional and played on the PGA Tour and Senior Tour," Blanchard said. "He was also a kicker at Georgia Tech."

Blanchard, a Double Dawg with undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia, played on the freshman team then earned two varsity letters his sophomore and junior seasons. He started law school as a senior and did not participate that year.

Ploeger, who played at Georgia Tech, remembers a particular tournament in Athens.

"We were playing the Southern Intercollegiate one year and it was his freshman year, so he didn't make the team," Ploeger said. "He ended up caddying for me. I would have done the same thing for him if I had not made the team."

Blanchard played Augusta National for the first time as a Georgia freshman. After 56 years, he still remembers that round.

"I went over there with David Boyd, who was a two-time All-American and our host was Bill Fulcher, whose son Bill Fulcher was a great football player at Georgia Tech," Blanchard said.

What was memorable was what happened on No. 16.

"They had told us that President Eisenhower was on the grounds and we would likely run into him," Blanchard remembered. "In fact on No. 16, he was fly fishing in the lake. They said don't talk to him; don't bother him. We walked by and he stopped us. He wanted to know who we were and where we went to school. We had a wonderful conversation with the president."

James Blanchard is among the Class of 2016 inductees into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. During a round at Augusta National Golf Club when Blanchard was a member of the University of Georgia golf team, he and his teammates met and s

At 74, Blanchard is a member of Augusta National. Keeping with the rules of the club, he won't talk much about it. Each April, like many of the members of the exclusive club, Blanchard has a role during The Masters. He currently is one of the announcers on the No. 1 tee where his job is to simply say, "Now driving," then name the golfer.

He has remained competitive and has shot his age or better nine times. A bogey on No. 18 at Augusta National the week after Thanksgiving cost him a chance to do it a 10th time.

He encourages young players to pick up the game the way he did as a kid.

"I think a lot about it and I want to see more of them out there," he said. "I want to tell them it's a game you can play your entire life. It is a game that, as much as any other game, you can build character, integrity, competitiveness and social graces that will serve you well in your business career and later in your life."

Chuck Williams, 706-571-8510, Follow Chuck on Twitter @chuckwilliams

Jimmy Blanchard

Age: 74

High school: Columbus High, 1959

College: University of Georgia, degree in business-finance, 1963; University of Georgia School of Law, 1965

Ties to Columbus: Moved here before his junior year of high school when his father was hired as president of Columbus Bank & Trust Co. He later became the head of Synovus Financial Corp. HAs been instrumental in many of the changes in Columbus over the last generation.

You need to know: Was on three high school state championship golf teams, two at Valdosta High School and one at Columbus High School.

Hall of Fame series

The Ledger-Enquirer provides a series of profiles each year on the inductees into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

Tuesday — Jimmy Blanchard

Wednesday — Pam Carter

Thursday — Cecil Cheves

Friday — Speedy Gilstrap

Saturday — Tim Walton

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