Sports Legends: Going For The Green
Tommy Aaron is one of only two Georgians to win the Masters
There is no greater love than that which a father has for his son. How do you honor a father who has been a perfect role model ever since you can remember? How do you honor a father who literally held your hand, started you on a career in your pre-teen years and followed you all the way to the top?
In the case of Thomas Dean (Tommy) Aaron, you establish a college scholarship in the name of your father, Charlie Aaron, to be known as the Tommy Aaron/Charlie Aaron Foundation Scholarship.
Tommy Aaron is one of only two Georgians to win a Masters Tournament, the other being Larry Mize. In the 1973 Masters, Aaron was four strokes back with 18 holes to go.
“My dad taught me never to give up,” Tommy said. “He taught me sportsmanship, integrity, honesty and self respect. He also taught me what the ancient rabbi Hillel said, “‘If I am not for myself who am I, and if I am for myself only what am I?’”
The Aaron scholarship, which provides $2,500 a year for four years, is awarded to a graduating senior in Hall County or Gainesville city schools. Applicants must have a “B” scholastic average and a strong interest in playing golf.
“I am forever grateful to dad for giving me the opportunity to go as far as I could, for having the vision to see me as a champion and for always being there, whether it was for a Gainesville High football game or a championship golf tournament.”
Aaron played quarterback on the Gainesville High football team and twice led the Red Elephants to 8-2 seasons. He also lettered in track and basketball, but there never was any doubt that golf was his game.
If there were any non-believers Tommy convinced them by winning his Georgia state amateur title while still in high school.
For a brief spell, the Aarons moved to Westmin-ster, S.C. There was no golf course there, so Charlie built one.
At the age of 10, Tommy was the peewee champion of Hall County. At the age of 15, while he was a junior at Gainesville High School, he won his first of four titles in the Georgia State Amateur.
Then Aaron defeated the University of Georgia’s John Carson, the Southeastern Conference champion. He won a golf scholarship to the University of Florida where he twice captured the SEC Championship. He was named on the college All-American golf team.
At the age of 23 he won the Southeastern Amateur and Western Amateur. He made his professional debut in the L.A. Open where he picked up his first check — $2,000. It seemed like a fortune, but it was just the beginning.
He was one of golf’s “Top Ten” money winners in 1971 and 1972 and was among the “Top 60” for 20 years.
In the Kaanapali Classic he edged Dave Stockton and picked up a check for $82,000.
There was more to come. He played on the Profes-sional Golf Association tour from 1961 to 1979, claiming his first major professional crown in the 1969 Canadian Open.
He was a member of the 1959 Walker Cup team and the 1969 and 1973 Ryder Cup teams. He won the 1970 Atlanta Classic and the 1972 Lancome Tournament of Champions in Paris.
After he won the Masters, he came home to Gainesville and to a parade in his honor. Tommy Aaron Drive runs about 12 miles out of Gainesville.
He was elected both to the state of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Florida Athletic Hall of Fame.
He and his wife, the former Jimmie Foster, live in Gainesville. They have two children, a daughter, Lynn Neeck, who lives in New York and a son, Tom, who lives in California.
Tommy is 72 years old. Although he no longer plays on the senior circuit, he plays with friends about three times a week and occasionally in charitable tournaments.
The biggest thrills of his life were when he put on the Green Coat emblematic of the Masters Championship, and the Aaron tribute dinner, given to him by the citizens of Gainesville.
His dad, Charlie, and his mother, Helen, had front row seats.