October 17, 2007

Backspin

Phil Hancock was No. 1 at No. 2

When the PGA Tour returned to the Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2 course in 1973 for a 10-year run, the event didn't lack for quality winners. Miller Barber, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson (twice) won the first seven events played at the venerable layout.

"It was a nice club to be in," says Phillip Hancock, who joined those stars on the Pinehurst winners' roll with a triumph in the 1980 Hall of Fame tournament. "I had some history there and had played well. It was just a great atmosphere for golf."

Hancock, 26 and in his fourth year on tour after a standout collegiate career at Florida -- where he was on an NCAA championship team in 1973 -- was no stranger to success on No. 2. Having tied for second place in the 1975 Southern Amateur there, he topped a 408-man field in the 1977 Q school when 72 of the event's 108 holes were played on Donald Ross' gem. "I always felt comfortable there," says Hancock, now a 53-year-old commercial insurance salesman in Tampa. "It was a good fit for my eye, a tree-lined course with small targets."

Ben Crenshaw led after 36 holes, but Hancock's third-round 67 gave him a one-shot edge over Tom Kite and Bill Rogers. Hancock wasted no time taking control in the final round, making birdies on the first two holes en route to a one-stroke victory over fast-closing Scott Simpson that netted him a $45,000 first-prize check.

Although the win validated Hancock's talent -- which had been evident since 1969, when he won the state junior in his native Alabama -- it would turn out to be his lone official tour title (he also won the 1984 Chrysler Team Championship with Ron Streck). Plagued by degenerative disks in his lower back, Hancock missed chunks of several seasons. "Back then," he says, "there wasn't a lot of preventative stuff. You waited for something to happen and then [you would] get it treated. I knew [the back] was going to flare up in the spring, and every year it did. It would take me out from a week to four or five weeks."

The injury, combined with a desire to be at home more with his two small children, caused Hancock to play his last full year on tour in 1985. He enjoyed a five-year stint as head pro at Montgomery (Ala.) CC, then taught the game at Indian Pines in Auburn, Ala., and in the Tampa area. As his 50th birthday approached, Hancock competed sporadically to prepare for the Champions Tour. After failing to earn his card at 2003 senior Q school, he considered other job options. At the urging of friends and his younger brother, David, who was in the business, Hancock got his insurance license in 2004. "It a while to make that step after being involved with golf for so long," says Hancock, who recently became a grandfather for the first time. "I didn't want to go back in the [pro] shop. You can only do so much teaching. I wanted to have something I could rely on that was stable."

Hancock sells different types of policies, and his clients include some golf concerns. "I work with golf courses and architects, construction firms, manufacturers. I call on turf and sod farms, and there are people involved with those who have heard my name. I went to Florida, and there are a lot of Gator fans here. That has helped open a few doors."

He is a once-a-week golfer, but his résumé doesn't make it easy. "[I] always have to give shots," Hancock says. "Guys think if you're a tour guy, you always play at that level. They don't cut you any slack."