OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- You've never heard of R.W. Eaks. Some golfers are famous. He's not even a rumor. But he shot 64 in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday. And that ties the record for lowest number.
If he ekes out a win Sunday, he'll win $450,000, which would break with precedent since R.W.'s career winnings, carbon-dated to 1980, are $900,438. Please, don't annualize that. If you can say, "Want fries with that?" and work holidays, you can top it easily.
Eaks has personality like Tiger has talent. The Senior Tour should pray he wins. Probably can't happen. There's not that much justice on three continents. But send one upstairs for Eaks anyway.
He putts cross-handed and hits 320-yard drives. His caddie is his son. He says he's never taken more than 13 seconds "between the time the other guy's ball hits the ground and I hit mine." As for practice putts, he won't take 'em. "Might waste a good one," he says. He just lost 33 pounds. Primary exercise? "Channel surfing."
You want Eaks to win or come close. Trust me on this one. In '98, just when his game finally started to click (OK, so it took 25 years to come around), he fell in a sand trap and busted his hip so badly that "it sounded like a shotgun blast. And that was it for me."
But somehow, it wasn't. Time heals. Sort of. With no carts allowed in Senior Opens, he may not hold up until Sunday. A week ago, his back went out so badly he couldn't get the ball out of the cup by himself. His best friend is a chiropractor. Good choice.
Just like us, he needs the gods to guide his ball to safety. One of his Wild Things was found after "a two minute search that felt like an hour." Another drive was "50 yards off line into the outhouses. Lucky somebody was there to find it."
The only place you're safe from his drives is the Men's Grill. Otherwise, fair game.
Luckily, if there's a hole in the ground, Eaks will find that, too. He missed one hole-in-one by six inches and another hole-in-one by eight inches. He missed an eagle putt by a foot, but made up for it at the 515-yard third hole with "a Tiger-like drive," a six-iron shot to 14 feet and an eagle putt that "snuck right in the hole."
What about that record, R.W.? Nicklaus and Irwin never shot 64 in a Senior Open, especially on a 7,005-yard track like Caves Valley. Big deal, right? "Gosh," he said, "I'm kind of disappointed I didn't shoot 63, actually."
By his last hole, after two inward bogeys, his son Jeremy, 17, said, "We're still having fun, aren't we?" Dad snapped out of his mini-funk and said, "You're right. We're having a great time."
And about time, too. Eaks first hit the PGA Tour, for about 90 seconds, in 1980. Over the decades, he teed it up 77 times with the big boys. He once finished seventh in Hawaii. That's the highlight.
Eaks' major distinction, until Thursday, was playing in 258 Buy.com Tour events. For a while, that was the most in human history. Talk about a safe record. Who'd want to break it? It's like being in Guinness for Most Root Canals. But somebody even more dogged, or with more time to kill, broke his mark.
"Without the Buy.com Tour, I don't know what I'd be doing right now," Eaks said. Perhaps that's the definition of an optimist.
Somehow, Eaks' wife, Karen, never said, "Why don't you quit?" Although he did. There was always food on the table, a car and a house for the two kids. But "sometimes, you go, man, I don't know if I can play this anymore." But time off always refreshed him.
Besides, Eaks had an edge. He's always sensed the Senior Tour was out there waiting for him, offering a second chance. When he turned 50 five weeks ago, it was like a starter's pistol. You see, he's an athlete, not just a golfer. (Pretend you didn't hear that.) In high school, he made the Sunkist All-America basketball team. "I was the black hole on our (state champion) team. You give me the ball, you're not getting it back." Then he played at Northern Colorado where "we let the top-10 teams in the country beat us up."
As he made his eight birdies and an eagle, he thought, "I feel like I'm playing with the guys at home." When his hip hurt on the closing holes, he looked at the scenery. "This course is so beautiful you forget about all the walking," he said. Oh, he's got golf bad.
And the best part is that the best part is just starting.
Recently, he played with Lee Trevino, then Larry Nelson.
"I thought, "You know what? I can play with these guys,' " Eaks said. "You always have that doubt whether or not you really fit in. And I think I'm going to fit in fine."
On the Senior Tour, fitting in fine usually translates into about $900,438. Per year, not per career. Right now, finally 50 and fairly fit, Eaks feels like the ultimate win-win guy. Does he know which player will show up on Friday: Mr. 64 or the 22-handicapper?
"No," he said. "If I have a great day tomorrow, perfect. If I don't, I'll be back on Saturday morning to try it again."
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