By STEVE HANF
In the Triad, Lanny Wadkins is best remembered for his 1983 victory in the Greater Greensboro Open and endless trips around Forest Oaks Country Club.
What many local golf fans may have forgotten is that Wadkins played his first six Greensboro PGA Tour events at Sedgefield Country Club, including his very first in 1969 as a 19-year-old sophomore who was encouraged to try the Monday qualifier by Jesse Haddock, his coach at Wake Forest University.
That’s why coming back to be part of the Wyndham Championship’s 75th anniversary celebration is special for Wadkins, especially since the event shifted back to Sedgefield in 2008.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Wadkins said. “I always love being back in the Triad, having gone to school at Wake, having two kids graduate from Wake. Greensboro is the very first PGA Tour event I ever played. With all the history and tradition the GGO has, having it back at Sedgefield really adds to that.”
Wadkins is one of several former champions who Wyndham officials were able to bring back for this anniversary celebration. Dow Finsterwald, who appeared in Greensboro 13 times and won in 1959, will stir up memories of tournaments past along with Bob Goalby, who won the GGO in his first appearance in 1958 and played the event 15 times.
Other famous faces, such as 1970 champion Gary Player (22 appearances) and two-time winner Billy Casper (15 appearances with wins in 1962 and 1968), couldn’t make the trip due to travel plans or health issues.
“I’ve seen some of the legends at other events, usually just one,” tournament director Mark Brazil said. “I locked in three of our past champions; all of them won majors as well, so that’s neat. They’re excited about coming back and we appreciate them coming and spending some time with us. We’ll be able to use them at different functions and parties, bring them out to the course; participate in some autograph-signing sessions. It will be really neat not only for our sponsors, but our fans as well.”
The Wyndham dates to 1938, making it the sixth-oldest event on the PGA Tour not counting the majors. That kind of tradition is worth playing up during the week of Aug. 11-17. Fans will be treated to a history walk at Sedgefield that celebrates each decade of the tournament, from Sam Snead’s dominance in the 1930s and 1940s up to Patrick Reid’s first PGA Tour victory a year ago.
Wadkins is one of 17 Wyndham champions in the World Golf Hall of Fame. At 64, he definitely is the youngest of the returning champions.
Goalby is 85 years old and – while winning 11 tournaments in his PGA career – is remembered for taking the 1968 Masters in regulation rather than facing a playoff when Roberto DeVicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard. Goalby’s nephews are Jay and Jerry Haas, who are well-known in the Triad for their Wake Forest ties.
Finsterwald, now 84, won the PGA Championship and was named the Tour’s top player in 1958. He made 72 straight cuts — at the time second only to Byron Nelson’s streak of 113. His cut streak remains fifth on the list.
Wadkins was excited about returning as long as it worked with his Golf Channel broadcasting schedule. Wadkins will leave Greensboro on Wednesday in time to work the Champions Tour’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Open Golf in Binghamton, N.Y.
Wadkins grew up in Richmond, Va., and came to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer golf scholarship. He lived in Winston-Salem for six years after graduating and always made it a point to play in the Triad’s PGA Tour event. He made 24 appearances during his 30-year career.
“It’s like a second home in a lot of ways for me,” Wadkins said. “It was very special when I won the event in 1983. It was always cool even after I moved away, seeing fraternity brothers and friends, family from Richmond. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of friends.
“It sounds like we’re going to have a fun week and we’ll see a lot of people,” Wadkins added. “Hopefully they’ll enjoy me being back as much as I‘m looking forward to it.”