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Dave Stockton holds a special place in his heart for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dave Stockton holds a special place in his heart for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. (Photo: Getty Images)

Notebook: Stockton thrilled by trip to aircraft carrier

For the past five years, Dave Stockton has enjoyed a special relationship with several Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. On Wednesday, he enjoyed a trip to the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

From Staff Reports

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Dave Stockton is known for his skills as a captain in the Charleston area since he led his men to an American victory at the 1991 Ryder Cup at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Ocean Course.

But while he's back in town for the Senior PGA Championship, he took his civilian self to the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Stockton has been close to several Congressional Medal of Honor recipients for the past five years following a trip to hear Tom Brokaw speak at their national convention.

"Cathy and I got to sit at a table with a Chuck Rodriguez, who was a Mexican American that was from my hometown of San Bernardino, Calif. He passed away last year but he sat there and we got to meet him. He was the only Medal of Honor winner from my hometown," said Stockton.

Stockton later met Ronald Ray, another Medal of Honor winner who asked him to participate in a golf tournament, which Stockton has now done for four years.

"To get around these gentlemen is unbelievable," Stockton said. "One brought me a hat from Iraq, from the TPC in Mosul, Iraq, and I have it signed by all the Medal of Honor recipients. It's really special."

It was Ray who helped arrange for Stockton to visit the aircraft carrier while in South Carolina on Wednesday to commemorate the opening of Congressional Medal of Honor museum aboard the USS Yorktown.

"Ronnie, Cathy and I spent the day down there. Of course it was a thrill to get on the aircraft carrier and see memorabilia from World War II," Stockton said. "They have interactive displays now about Medal of Honor recipients. For instance, Rodriguez was in the second room I went to. I saw his picture so I punched on the deal and up came his story and the first picture was of him on a golf course with his wife. He loved to play golf. It was really special."

Though he was sorry he missed a black-tie dinner Wednesday night on the ship, Stockton joked that he was a little worried his friends were going to have a hard time staying on board. Those winds the players are facing on the golf course were just as ferocious on the ship.

"I'm not so sure they didn't get blown off the ship," he joked. "We were in the hanger where the museum is, right when you walk on board the ship and the black-tie dinner was up on top. They were setting it up and I thought, man they must have gotten blown right off that thing."

SAND CAPER: Anyone who made par on the ultra-difficult par-3 17th hole Thursday had to consider himself very fortunate. After all, the hole was the hardest of the first round, playing nearly a full stroke over par.

But when you make par from where Tim Conley found himself, well, that's nothing short of miraculous.

Conley, a journeyman professional from Gainesville, Ga., who got into the Senior PGA Championship by virtue of a withdrawal and his position on the Champions Tour 2007 money list, pull-hooked his tee shot on the treacherous 178-yard par-3 over water so badly that his ball landed on a downhill sandy area left of the walkway, some 30 yards from the green. Worse yet, his ball nestled in a nasty lie.

Forget that the water was staring at him from the other side of the green.

"It was a horrible lie, in a footprint," said Conley, 50, a native of Cleveland, Ohio. "But it was in the front part of the footprint so I could play it like a sand shot and explode it."

With a ring of spectators and marshals around him, Conley opened his 52-degree wedge and blasted the ball, which landed just on the fringe and rolled past the cup about 10 feet. "I told my caddie, 'Let's make this and get them going.'"

Conley calmly canned the straight, uphill putt to salvage an unlikely par.

Great bunker play is nothing new to Conley, who counts among his career wins the 1993 Knoxville Open and 1996 Gateway Classic on the Nationwide Tour, the 1989 Bermuda Open and the 1992 Kansas Open. Before missing the last two Champions Tour events -- he's played in four this season -- he was leading that tour in sand-save percentage but lost his standing because he didn't have the required number of rounds played.

"Now they can say, 'That guy can get out of the sand from the weeds,'" joked Conley, who went on to post a 4-over 76.

LOOK OUT BELOW: The waste areas on some of the holes at the Ocean Course are so steep that wooden steps are put in to help players enter and leave them. Tony Jacklin found out how steep they were after attempting to swing while standing on the slope of a waste area on the 16th hole. After swinging, he tumbled backwards to the bottom, landing on his backside. He was fine, though his score took a beating. He carded a 7 on the hole en route to an 84 for the day.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: Kiawah Island is known as one of the most renowned sanctuaries for wildlife and the environment. But the galleries near the 17th green might have gotten a little closer to nature than they expected -- or wanted -- Thursday when a 10-foot alligator came up out of the water, crawled onto land and began sunning himself a few feet from the gallery ropes.

WIND TUNNEL: The wind remains the story after the first round at the Ocean Course, with players likening the drafty conditions to other notable places. On the golf course wind scale, it's apparently a step below the gusts at PGA of Southern California, site of the Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament in 2005, but more difficult than St. Andrews.

"I played at St. Andrews where it was really windy. But here it's really tough around the greens. So it's really tough around here," said Joe Ozaki, who managed a 3-under 69 in the conditions.

To Massy Kuramoto, however, the winds can't compare to Q-school in 2005, where he earned fully exempt status in 2006 on the Champions Tour thanks to being the only player to put together four straight sub-par rounds in that weather.

"When I qualified two years ago at the Q-school in California, the Santa Ana winds were blowing for six days and it was worse than this," said Kuramoto. "I've played in the British Open a number of times but the same applies here and there. But you know you're going to miss the greens, so you try to make sure that you're approaching into the wind. If you're going to miss it, that's the better way to miss it."

Then there's Brad Bryant's venue comparison, which is a bit out of this world.

"I have a good friend that works at NASA and he said that maybe next year we could just go ahead and have the tournament in Houston in the wind tunnel."

A WORLD-CLASS SHOWING: International players fared pretty well in the first round of the Senior PGA Championship. Just seven players sat under par by Thursday's end and, of those seven, five different countries were represented at the top of the leaderboard.

Leader Eduardo Romero hails from Cordoba, Argentina. Massy Kuramoto, from Hiroshima, Japan, is tied for fourth, while fellow countryman Joe Ozaki was in second place after one round. Ozaki's brother Jet wasn't too far down the leaderboard, either, sitting in a tie for 21st.

Rounding out the top of the list was Chip Beck, who sat in third place and lives in Lake Forest, Ill. Then, tied for fourth with Joe Ozaki, there was Nick Price, who was born in South Africa but relocated to Zimbabwe at a young age; Denis Watson, who comes from Salisbury, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe); and American Brad Bryant.

Not far behind is 2006 Q-school medalist Boonchu Ruangkit, who was tied for 8th and hails from Bangkok, Thailand. Ruangkit and Kuramoto were part of another trend on the day –- past Q-school medalists near the lead. Ruangkit won the qualifying tournament in '06 while Kuramoto was tops in 2005.

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