The Champions Tour is usually good
for a surprise or two that will bring a
smile to a golfer’s faithful followers. It
sure delivered one two Sundays ago when
Rod Spittle, a 55-year-old Canadian who
lives in Columbus, Ohio, beat Jeff Sluman
on the first extra hole of their sudden-death playoff at the AT&T Championship
in San Antonio.
Spittle’s win, good for $262,500, was as
unexpected as it was deserved. The 1977
and 1978 Canadian Amateur champion
from St. Catharine’s, Ont., hadn’t even
turned pro until he was 49, a year short of
being eligible for the old, well, older boys’
network. He had sold insurance for a
quarter of a century, but had nurtured the
dream of finding out what sort of golfer
he could be after turning 45.
Spittle found out, and as a qualifier. He
had no status on the Champions Tour, no
status except that of a golfer who thought
he could compete with Sluman, Fred
Couples, Bernhard Langer and their ilk.
He came to the tournament expecting
that he would soon head for the Champions Tour’s regional qualifying school.
But now he is exempt from qualifying.
Now, he has status, and stature.
He showed he had game, a winning
“I’d packed enough clothes for the next
two tournaments in Texas,” Spittle said
from his home in Columbus last week.
“But all of a sudden at 6 o’clock on Sun-
day night I didn’t have to do anything.”
That is, he didn’t need to worry about
qualifying, or being on the road, or where
he might next play.
“It has been an
amazing three or four
days,” Spittle, who
attended Ohio State
University where he
was a teammate of
John Cook, said of
the time he’d been
back home after parring the first extra
hole to defeat Sluman. He hit a deft little
chip shot through the rough, with his feet
hanging over the lip of a bunker on the
first playoff hole. The ball ran through the
heavy grass and finished four feet from
Sluman faced a bogey putt inside that
distance, but Spittle made his par putt to
Spittle almost made a huge mistake
before trying his par putt. He had moved
his ball to allow Sluman to putt for par
first, and nearly forgot to replace his ball
in its original spot. Sluman, class act that
he has always been, reminded Spittle to
replace his ball.
“It would have been awful for it to end
like that,” Sluman said of what would
have transpired had Spittle forgotten to
replace his ball.
Spittle’s world has now expanded in
so many good ways. However, he still
intends to be involved at the Little Turtle
club, a Pete Dye design in Columbus. He
has been a member there since 1985, and
started to help with golf operations when
two of his buddies bought the club three
Spittle has to be one of the most
engaging fellows one could meet in the
game. Jeff Dykeman, the Canadian PGA’s
manager of business development,
certainly knows this.
“Rod is one of the nicest people I’ve
ever come across in Canadian golf,”
Dykeman said. “This year at the Mr. Lube
– CPGA Seniors (in Milton, Ont.) – he
walked right over to a group of young
kids that were watching on the first tee.
He talked to them for about 10 minutes
before he teed off and then gave them his
business card and told them to e-mail
him their results from the upcoming
junior club championship.”
Spittle has in fact made so many
friends during his unusual journey, in his
own country, in Columbus, and in Dune-
din, Fla., where he and his wife, Ann, have
a winter home.
He plays at the Dunedin Country Club
and TPC Tampa Bay, which hosts the annual Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am on the
“I’ve heard from all the people I’ve met
and from many I don’t know,” Spittle said.
“The win happened so quickly it’s almost
hard to believe.”
Spittle’s win wasn’t the only feel-good
story that weekend for Canadian golf-
ers. Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn played
his way back onto the PGA Tour with a
fourth-place finish in the season-ending
Nationwide Tour Championship at the
Daniel Island club near Charleston.
Hearn advanced from 27th to 21st on the