GREENSBORO, N.C. — Twenty-three years ago, a commercial real-estate agent named Charles (Doc) Cunningham took an old persimmon 5-wood and sawed it down for his 3-year-old grandson. It was the start of a long three-sided relationship between the man, the boy and the sport of golf. Cunningham, a competitive golfer who would play in senior amateur events, now had a new shadow when he went to the driving range, and the boy learned a little bit of everything from his grandfather, including how to behave on the course. They spent hours together, and the boy became very good, even better than his teacher in time, and took home two conference championships in college.
On Sunday, that grandson, J.T. Poston, won his first PGA Tour event at the Wyndham Championship, just 100 miles east of his Hickory, N.C., home.
Poston grew up playing on Lake Hickory Country Club, a course that bears some similarity to Greensboro's Sedgefield Country Club, and though he lives in Georgia now, he was surrounded this week by friends and family from Hickory, along with more than a few fans wearing the eye-catching purple of his unlikely alma mater, Western Carolina (Poston is the first alum to ever win a PGA Tour title). But perhaps the most meaningful supporter was Cunningham, who Poston calls "Pa Doc." He's 85, and hasn't been able to travel to many tournaments lately because of medical issues. His presence on the course for Poston's maiden victory was one of those happy coincidences that, for Poston, was almost inexpressible.
"It was pretty special to have everybody here, especially my grandfather," he said. "I have so many memories of the golf course with him, following him to the range, playing golf with him growing up. Definitely would not be here without him, without his guidance."
"For him to be here," Poston added moments later, his eyes welling up just slightly, "is, you know, that's something that I will never, never forget."
Of course, it would be easy to cast Cunningham as the kindly grandfather, but "kindly" is not a trait that wins PGA Tour events, and Poston's mentor was every bit as focused as his grandson is today. Cunningham used to keep track of how often he shot his age, starting in his mid-60s when he first managed the feat, but the count rose so high as he grew older that he had to give up.
"I want to say the last time I asked him and he told me, it was in the 600s, the number of times he shot his age," Poston said.
Even their games were similar—not extremely long off the tee, but very accurate and with a dynamic short game. And Poston didn't just learn to love golf from Pa Doc, and he didn't just learn to master the etiquette; he learned to win.
"That was kind of how I learned how to play golf, was watching him at a competitive level, learning from him."
There's quite a lot for Poston to celebrate after his big win, including a FedEx Cup Playoff berth, lots of money, a spot in next year's Masters and the new tour status that he referred to as "job security." (He's uncertain on his precise celebration plans, but he did say it would involve Coors Light.) Yet his eagerness to talk about his grandfather is a good sign that the longest-lasting satisfaction will be winning in front of the man who got it all started. It's the start of a new phase in Poston's career, but it's also the consummation of the priceless relationship that led to this point.
Somewhere, in the family home, the Postons still have that old sawed-off 5-wood. Maybe, in time, it will hold a place of honor next to the Sam Snead Cup that J.T. held on Sunday. Between persimmon and silver, between Pa Doc and J.T., there will be quite a story to tell.