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Who is Keith Clearwater and why is he playing at Colonial this week?

May 22, 2014

No player is more associated with the annual PGA Tour stop at Colonial Country Club than Ben Hogan. But Keith Clearwater, a man who at one time was said to possess a Hogan-like swing, also shows up frequently in the event's record books.

And unlike Hogan, he still shows up for his tournament tee time every year.

Since its inception in 1946, the Colonial has changed names several times, but it has always been an invitational. And Clearwater, the 1987 champ, still gets an invite to compete despite his best playing days being long behind him.


Clearwater plays a bunker shot during at Colonial in 2012.

It's been 10 years since Clearwater, 54, played in more than two events on the PGA Tour (he played in five in 2004), and he hasn't even played in a Champions Tour event since 2011. But he'll tee off No. 1 at Colonial on Thursday at 1:39 p.m.

Clearwater hasn't broken par at Colonial in 13 years. Not coincidentally, that 2001 event was also the last time Clearwater made it to the weekend (he opened with an even-par 70 in 2011, but shot a Friday 74 to miss the cut). But before that, he had quite a run at Hogan's Alley.

In his rookie season on tour, Clearwater won the 1987 Colonial National Invitation with a pair of 64s on the weekend to beat runner-up Davis Love III by three shots. And from 1991-93, the former All-American at BYU finished T-11, T-6, and T-9 at what was then the Southwestern Bell Colonial. He shot in the 60s in 10 of 12 rounds during that stretch, including a 61, which set a course record that he now shares with five other players.

But his success on tour wasn't limited to Fort Worth. A month after Clearwater's maiden victory in 1987, he shot a third-round 64 at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club to tie that historic course's record and get into the final pairing with Tom Watson, but dropped to T-31 after a final-round 79. Clearwater captured the Centel Classic later that year for a second victory in a stellar rookie campaign, but he never won again.

So what happened?

One viable theory is Clearwater's game suffered because of his extreme workout regimen. In the 1990s, Clearwater led the wave of modern tour pros focusing more on fitness, specifically on getting stronger, something Jaime Diaz wrote about in a golf notes column for Sports Illustrated in February of 1994.

Labeling him "the leading iron pumper on the PGA Tour," Diaz wrote Clearwater got into a routine of lifting heavy weights five or six days a week while rehabbing a dislocated shoulder.

"What it does for my golf game is really secondary," Clearwater told Diaz. "I do it for the benefits it brings to my life -- feeling better and looking better. But I also know that the discipline it takes to work out has made me a better golfer."

In 1992, Clearwater had his most consistent year with 10 top 10s and more than $600,000 in earnings, but he never came close to matching that again. Diaz did a larger piece on golfers bulking up in Sports Illustrated in May 1998. By that time, Clearwater owned three health clubs in his home state of Utah, but had lost his PGA Tour card. Diaz wrote:

Clearwater, 38, was considered one of the Tour's bright lights in the late '80s, when he won two tournaments. Then in '92 he began to lift and was soon maxing out. It wasn't long before he gained 22 pounds of muscle, putting 215 pounds on his 6-foot frame. As Clearwater's strength increased, his earnings and effectiveness as a golfer decreased. He developed a short, quick swing, and many observers believed he was constricted by his musculature. By 1995 Clearwater had lost his exemption. Most people thought he had lifted his way out of golf.

Clearwater, however, didn't see it that way.

"It was a lot of things, but none of them related to training," Clearwater told Diaz. "Basically I quit wanting to play. I had the worst attitude on Tour. I needed to get away from the game. I'm disappointed that people think weights are no good because of me. I'm looked at as a guy who lifted too much, but I have a great desire to be the forerunner who proves that golfers can really benefit by muscle development."

It didn't quite work out that way, but Clearwater must be happy that his decline on the course certainly hasn't deterred today's PGA Tour pros from staying out of the gym (although few, with the notable exception of Tiger Woods, seem to focus on bulking up). And at least, this week at Colonial, he'll get to see some of those guys up close.