MARANA, Ariz. - On the PGA Tour, wives are regarded like they are in presidential campaigns. You might not get the title First Lady, but you're expected to act like one - subverting your wishes to the man who earns those big pay checks, living where he needs to live to try and rule the golf universe (or at least make nice bank losing to Tiger Woods), taking care of the home front and in many cases, all those little chores of everyday life.
Pro golfers don't plan their careers around their wives. If it's not quite You shush and listen to what we're going to do, woman, it's often close.
So what the hell is Woody Austin doing playing a snow round in preparation for his first WGC Accenture Match Play Championship?
He's breaking the mold, that's what. Austin doesn't do anything by convention. He certainly didn't in stunning the fifth-ranked player in the world, Adam Scott, by coming from two holes down with only five left to eliminate Scott in 19 holes in the second round of the Match Play Thursday afternoon.
When it was over, after a quick near-disbelieving handshake with Austin, Scott turned around and marched right back up the middle of the first fairway. Woody had a little chuckle at that one.
Of course that's how many wives of pro athletes have to deal with their man: By simply turning around and taking it. Woody doesn't play that, though. He's about as dictatorial as a Care Bear.
That's why he's a pro golfer who lives in Derby, Kansas - a little town just outside of Wichita. For those who don't know - and this includes probably half the field at The Gallery Golf Club this week - that's the heartland of America: tornados, snow, cold and all the rest.
In other words, it's about as ideal a home base for one of the world's Top 40 golfers as Las Vegas would be for a devout Mormon recovering from a gambling addiction. Nobody who plays golf at the highest level lives in Kansas. Nobody except the guy who puts his wife first.
Austin admits that everyone thinks Kansas is loonier than Ian Poulter's pants. His fellow pros don't just razz him about it, his amateur partners in pro-am tournaments do too. Like the guy destined to be forever known as Aquaman for his bumbling President's Cup lake dive needs something else for people to get on him about?
"Everybody," Austin said. "It's like 'why Kansas?' ... You try to explain it. I tried to explain it to (someone) yesterday ...
"When I'm not home - when I'm out here, who's the most important thing? My family is the most important. And my family needs to be where my wife is most comfortable. We live in Kansas because that's where she's most comfortable. That's where my wife was born and raised."
Austin looks up, shrugs, sure that a bunch of reporters still don't get it. Don't worry, Woody. You did a fine job explaining it. A large part of society's high-achievers who read Donald Trump's business books and kill, kill, kill that deal, will just never understand it. It's beyond their straw-mouth-focused comprehension.
This is why if you're a woman, if you're a spouse, period, who's ever sacrificed something great for your partner (where you live, what you do, what you've turned down or given up), you should root for Woody Austin over Tiger Woods. Or anyone else on this tour largely made up of ball-launching robots.
Austin's the most human guy out here and today he plays in arguably the most human World Match Play duel ever against fellow unconventional Boo Weekley. The only thing blueblood about this pairing ... well, there is nothing, but they sure have drank some blue cans of beer over the years.
"When it comes to golf, when it comes to what you think of professional golfers, I'm not a professional golfer," Austin said. "I didn't come from any country club. I had no teacher."
Instead he had a few people, like his wife Shannon, who always believed in him. People he pays back by doing things for them now: Like living in Kansas and practicing in-between snow banks.
You want a love story on the PGA Tour? Woods' and Elin's is not a true love story, at least not one that anyone outside of their Tom Cruise-like world (minus the out-there religion) would recognize. It's a mega-rich superstar who landed the hottest blonde in the room (and Woods' room is pretty large).
Woody and Shannon Austin is a love story. This is the rare 44-year-old pro athlete who's done a lot of average-man hard living. He bounced around more than an old-time carpetbagger, hitting every mini tour you can think of, including Japan, finding work as a credit union teller and a drugstore shelf stocker (yes, Austin was a stock boy when he was much too old for that to be funny). And Shannon's been there for a lot of it. She met him on the Nike Tour. Woody didn't earn his PGA Tour card until age 30, and he'd lose it again.
Shannon was back in Derby when Austin sent Scott - the wunderkind who's everything Austin is not - packing Thursday. When you've worked as hard for every moment as Woody has, you're sure going to enjoy pulling off the second biggest late comeback in the tournament, next to Woods.
"Even if I'm not playing well, I always fight," Austin said in a quiet moment right after the match on a suddenly empty first green. "I'm not a quitter. I fight."
He fights even when he feels like his putter is plotting against him like Brutus in Rome.
"It's awfully hard not to [lose it]," Austin said of a round in which he figures he gave Scott four holes with brutal greens work alone. "I think I did a pretty good job of not getting too pissed off. I didn't show too much disgust."
He didn't break another putter with his skull, in other words. That's what everyone knew about Woody, before Aquaman of course. But did you know that Woods himself swears Austin was by far the best athlete on last year's President's Cup team, capable of dunking a basketball?
The only story that truly matters, though, is the one between Woody and his wife.
If you can't cheer for this golfer, you must belong to Pine Valley.
February 22, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.