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Touching all bases: On Ferriss award, Furr, and brushes with Tom Watson

Ole Miss slugger Kemp Alderman won the 2023 Boo Ferriss Trophy as Mississippi’s most outstanding college baseball player, as chosen by Major League scouts and college coaches. As is almost always the case in these post-season awards, there was an outcry that the wrong guy got the trophy.

Kemp Alderman. Credit: MSHOF

Alderman won over fellow finalists Hunter Hines of Mississippi State, Tanner Hall of Southern Miss, Ty Hill of Jackson State and Slade Wilks of Southern Miss. Hall won the award in 2022.

First things first: Alderman is a worthy winner. All he did was hit .376 with a slugging percentage of .709 and on-base percentage of .440. He slammed 19 home runs and knocked in 61 runs. “One of the most productive seasons in Ole Miss baseball history,” is the way his coach, Mike Bianco, described it.

Nevertheless, social media and fan websites (and my email) were inundated with cries of favoritism or a rigged vote. Most of it came from Southern Miss fans who believed Hall, the Golden Eagles’ All American pitcher, should have won for a second consecutive season.

You may remember that Hall won last year, beating out, among others, Ole Miss’s heroic slugger Tim Elko, who eventually would lead the Rebels to the national championship. Naturally, Rebel fans believed Elko should have won.

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As with Alderman, Hall’s numbers were off the charts. Pitcher of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference, Hall is 12-3 with a 2.23 earned run average. He has struck out 109 batters while walking only 30. In conference games, he was 9-1 with a 2.00 ERA. Understand, he was always pitching against the other team’s best guy. 

If I had a vote, I would have voted for Hall, but that’s taking nothing away from Alderman, nor any of the other finalists who all had phenomenal seasons. Congrats to Kemp Alderman, who was eloquent and thoughtful in accepting the award. Congrats also to Hall for an All American season that is far from over.

This past Sunday, Jackson native Wilson Furr was leading the Korn Ferry Tour event in Kansas City when he went to the first tee to begin the fourth and final round. He looked around the quite sizable gallery and, much to his surprise, saw someone he recognized.

That someone was Tom Watson.

Wilson Furr interviewed at NCAA Tournament in 2017. Credit: UA Athletics

Yes, that Tom Watson: Kansas City native, winner of eight major tournaments, 39 PGA tournaments, eight European Tour tournaments and the world’s No. 1 golfer for four years consecutively. 

Furr’s thoughts were just what you might suspect: “Tom Watson, one of greatest players in golf history, is out here watching me … ”

No pressure there.

So, Furr’s group gets to the sixth green, with Watson still watching, and Furr faces important chip shot, still holding a narrow lead. He addresses the ball and then it happens. In the gallery, someone’s phone rings. 

Furr backs away and looks in the direction of the ringing phone. Yes, it was Tom Watson’s phone, and the World Golf Hall of Famer was fumbling with it, sheepishly trying to turn it off.

The rest of the gallery had a good laugh and Furr went on and made his par.

Furr shot a final round 71, which tied him for second place behind Grayson Murray, who shot a final round 68.

The second straight Top 10 finish moved Furr to No. 26 on the Korn Ferry points list, with the tour moving to Knoxville this week. The top 30 on the points list will gain full PGA Tour privileges for 2024. Furr has made quite a comeback since missing the cut in a Florida tournament last month because of controversial two-shot penalty.

I had my own personal episode with Tom Watson, long before he became famous and long before cell phones, for that matter.

This was 50 years ago in 1973 at the old Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg. Several friends, including PGA officials, told me I had to get out on the course and watch this young golfer, recently graduated from Stanford, destined for greatness. Tom Watson.

Tom Watson

So I looked at the pairings, did the math and figured he should be approaching the fifth hole. The fifth at the Hattiesburg Country Club was then — and is now — the hardest hole on the course. I headed that way and arrived at the fifth green just moments before I saw somebody’s shot land on the green, bounce once and then roll into the hole. That somebody turned out to be Watson.

So, the threesome reached the green and the two other golfers marked their golf balls, while Watson, a short, little guy (then with a mustache) looked all around the green for his.

“Hey, buddy,” I called out, “check the hole.”

Watson walked over, looked down, broke into a smile and picked up his ball. He waved the ball to the gallery, which was one. Me. On a hole where par is a good score and birdies are rare, he had made an eagle-2. I followed him the rest of the way, amazed at his compact, efficient swing. He went on to finish third in the tournament. It was his last trip to the Magnolia Classic. He would win the Western Open the next year and the British Open in 1975. He was off and running. The rest was magic.

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