Tim the Tool Man – aka ball spotter for the PGA TOUR

Neal Lancaster, one of the greatest characters during my time on the PGA TOUR. Neil was an extremely talented ball striker who when he got going in the right direction could take it deep. I believe he is the only player to ever shoot 29 twice during the US Open, one of those was a Sunday on the back nine at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. He was full of humor and emotion. I always enjoyed playing with him because he was the type of player who pulled hard for the whole group to play well. However, Neal’s temperature could run a little too hot sometimes. It was the mid 90’s at the Honda Classic during the Florida swing sometime in March. Friday morning and I’m playing with Neal and Ed Dougherty. Ed was a super nice, quiet TOUR player who went about his business very methodically and peacefully. He had served in Vietnam years before and had a long career on the PGA TOUR. So here we are cruising along, teed off on the back nine first and are now on the par four 16th tee. Neal has the honors. He hits a good 3 wood up the left side of the fairway and the ball lands right on top of a sprinkler head. It ricochets straight left into a fairway bunker. Neal immediately yells out “if I didn’t have bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all!” I’ll try to keep the rest of this story PG rated. Ed and I hit our tee shots, we are walking down the fairway and Neal is mumbling with his cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. He was working that smoke. I sensed we were in for a show. Neal did not disappoint. There’s no crowd following us except for maybe a handful of people, Neal’s wife Lou Ann and a reporter from the Times Picayune by the name of Dave Lagarde were part of the gallery. Dave was writing a story on the Louisiana pros as they prepared for the spring TOUR schedule. We were playing Weston Hills Country Club, a brand new course with a bunch of houses still under construction. Neal walks up to the bunker where his ball was and sure enough, it was in a footprint. Someone didn’t do a very good job of raking the bunker. The hat comes off, his face was boiling red. Ed and I just look at each other knowing what’s to come. We weren’t quite sure who’s turn it was but Neal says “I’ll go.” We are about 145 yards out from the hole, Neal hits an absolute pure skull line drive, head hunter, straight through the green. Ball hits the cart path behind the green then launches 20 yards straight into a house that is still under construction. When it hit the cart path the first f-bomb was already out. I start to giggle so I walked away. Ed puts his head down. Then it got interesting. Neal yells out “is the ball inbounds?” No one answers. Neal yells again “is the ball inbounds?” His thick North Carolina country twang is in full force. Out of nowhere, Tim the Tool Man wearing a hard hat and safety vest walks out to the cart path and yells “who hit the ball in the house? I thought this was a professional tournament?” Then Neal yells back to him “IS THE G-DAMN F-BOMBING BALL IN BOUNDS OR NOT?” He yelled so loud the scorer who looked like a nice church going lady, dropped the scoring board right in the middle of the fairway. Ed and I just got out of the way at this point. Tim the Tool Man yells back “are you talking to me?” Neal yells back “WHERE’S THE F-BOMBING BALL?” Tool Man yells back “it’s in the f-bombing house!” Neal then asks his caddy for another ball and says “boys, I’ll finish the hole.” Keep in mind Ed and I still hadn’t even hit our second shots. Neal takes the ball and slams it into the bunker giving himself a half buried lie. Chunks it out, grabs a wedge, hits the ball on the green, walks up and three putts from 20 feet. A solid 8 is recorded. I was blinded by the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. His wife Lou Ann comes under the ropes and yells “Neal Lancaster, you are showing your ass!” I almost fell to the ground.

We finish the hole and proceed to the next tee. Neal apologizes to the group but I can’t look at him without laughing. I look over at Dave Lagarde and he waves me over. He says “I’m going to write this story.” We start laughing again. The group continues on and we all start playing pretty good, Neal calms down. We get to the front nine. The fun begins again. I’ll keep this part short and sweet. Neal birdies the last four holes to get to the cut line. He has to wait 6 hours to find out he missed the cut by a shot.

Later that year, in Chicago at the Western Open, Neal and I are both sitting on the cut line late Friday afternoon. He says “G, we need to quit playing like this. We are always on the cut line. Our only hope is if Fred Couples makes bogey on 18. And that ain’t gonna happen.” He continues “have you ever noticed Nicklaus, Woods and Couples never miss the cut by a shot? That never happens.” Couples ended up making a bogey that let Neal and I play the weekend. Love me some Neal Lancaster. He was always one of my favorites to play with. Truly a great sport and a good guy. He’s still playing on the Champions TOUR. #neallancaster #pgatour #ministeroffun