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Auburn’s 40-Year-Old (PGA Tour) Virgin

Gary Christian gettin' his Gary Christian on.

Auburn’s notorious Journalism 101 class (now JRNL 1100) has claimed many victims.  Most forget the shame, especially if they survive a retake. PGA Tour rookie Gary Christian can only wonder what might have been.

Having sailed past the spelling test, he confronted the usage module. Strunk & White.  (The very mention sends a painful shudder through most.)  For a student who grew up learning Oxford English, it was a losing battle.

“It worked against 22 years of education.  I never studied, but that was one class I studied for,” he recalled.  “I got a 71.”  In the 101 grading scale, that is a failing grade. In its grading system, failing one exam means failing the course, regardless of your performance on other exams.  “I am not a fan of Journalism 101,” he said.

But journalism’s loss was golf’s gain.  Gary completed his degree in mass communication in 1995 (with honors), and now, a mere 16 years later, he has made it to the PGA tour.

His candid, easy-going manner has earned the attention of a growing number of golf journalists, as well as the tourplayers.com Web site.  (I’ll send you there to get his take on his first experience tailgating at Auburn in 1993 rather than detail it here.  It’s worth the trip.)

A warning about Gary Christian: He speaks English as if it were a second language. If you follow him on Twitter (@GazzaGolf1966), you might need a translator to understand the Brit.

After playing alongside Davis Love III, he declared him a “pucker geezer.” True, Davis’s pursed lips rival Renee Zellweger, but was that necessary?  He explains. “Pucker” means genuine.  “Geezer” means great guy.  “Maybe I should have called him a ‘diamond geezer,'” Gary says.  Yeah, much clearer.

And when he described world No. 1 Rory McIlroy as a “scouser” for his perm and “shell suit” (i.e., track suit) top, well, it certainly painted a picture of what one would look like, though Gary clarified that a true scouser would also wear several gold medallions — and be from Liverpool.

From his outgoing manner and his refusal to take himself as seriously as his game, Gary seems a natural for the broadcast booth, and even he acknowledges the possibility, acknowledging an English accent as meeting a job requirement.

But don’t think he plans to recycle other commentators, like Gary McCord (“Sometimes he tries too hard”) or David Feherty (“A little over the top for me. There is a very thin line between having enough material and having too much.”)

For all his talk of humor and pucker geezers, however, Gary is all business on the golf course.  His dress is as conservative as everything else isn’t.  Payne Stewart had his knickers, but Gary is leaving the shell top for the scousers.  “I’m pretty reserved,” he said.  “If you dress like a clown, you play like a clown.”  On those days you struggle, he pointed out, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.

His style may be conservative when he's out on the links, but several photos on Christian's Facebook profile show him in various states of undress.

Performance-wise, Gary is off to a good start. He recalled that the first hole of his first PGA tournament, in Hawaii (tough gig), he hit his approach within 8 feet and birdied.  On the next hole, he lost his drive in a palm tree.

But overall, he has done well.  Of the 26 rookies on the tour, he ranks 7th in stats.  On the positive, he made five cuts in a row before barely missing in Puerto Rico.  The tough part has been turning those cuts made into high finishes.  He has one Top 15 finish and was toward the top in the Honda Classic before fading late and finishing tied for 30th.

He is one of four Auburn golfers currently on tour.  Gary is not as well-acquainted with the most successful of the crew, Jason Dufner.  He is closer friends with Roland Thatcher, whom Gary recruited to Auburn in 1995.  He has also developed a friendship with fellow rookie Will Claxton, who is 10 years younger but, like Gary, has found some success his rookie year, including a Top 10 finish at a tournament in Mexico.

“I’m good friends with him; he’s a great fellow,” Gary said of Claxton.  “He enjoys being around Auburn.”  Claxton came out of nowhere to make it through PGA Tour Qualifying School.  Gary said he credits it to “life changes, a new perspective.”

Gary is enjoying the ride too.  At Doral, his tee time was close to Tiger Woods’, so he warmed up next to him at the driving range.  “Standing next to one of the top five players in the history of golf,” he said.  “It was an odd reminder that this truly is a dream come true.”

But he still has time for fun.  Gary insists that in his future is a tourplayers.com video shoot of him having his back waxed, a la Steve Carell.  Let’s see Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy top that.

John Carvalho, associate professor of journalism at Auburn, blogs about the sports media at johncarvalhoau.tumblr.com. Find him on Twitter at @johncarvalhoau. Read his previous columns here.

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