World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Kite was in Birmingham last Monday to help promote this year’s Regions Tradition, and I had the most enjoyable opportunity to sit down with him one-on-one at a very cool locale, Topgolf Birmingham.

He has an affinity for the Magic City as his daughter Stephanie lives in Cahaba Heights with her husband, and she was part of two SEC Championship and one National Championship-winning gymnastics teams at the University of Alabama, graduating in 2004.

Previously an employee of Bruno Event Team, a well-known and regarded Birmingham-based company that runs many varied sporting events, including the Regions Tradition, she now works for a local church.

It’s hard to believe that Kite is now 68. He is in fine physical shape, save for some knee issues, and still enjoys the game, but not as much as in his prime.

“I’d say there’s an ember burning (for golf) now, as opposed to a roaring flame. I know the end of my playing career is not far away, but I’m not at the end yet.

“To be honest, it’s difficult (his impending retirement), but refreshing in others. I’ve played professional golf since 1972. You can even have too much chocolate ice cream, if you know what I mean.”

Always known as a hard worker and determined competitor, this is the life he has always known and he admitted stepping aside, when the time comes, will be tough.

“It’s a family out here. One I’ve grown up alongside and watched grow up.”

The pinnacle of his playing career was his 1992 U.S. Open win at famed Pebble Beach Golf Links in fierce winds. He won an additional 18 times on the PGA Tour and 10 more on the PGA Tour champions.

He talked of his fondness for the Regions Tradition.

“The Regions Tradition is very special for us players as it is our only major that is played at the same venue every year. Just as The Masters is on the regular tour. This gives it a unique flavor.

“Birmingham has always been such a strong supporter of golf and we love playing here. The community really gets behind the event, and it’s a lot of fun to play in front of the big crowds.”

He talked of the Southern hospitality he always enjoys and looks forward to.

“I understand they are adding a new wrinkle this year as the par 3 tenth hole will have bleachers around it in much the same way the 16th is in the Phoenix Open. This will really make all the fans part of the action.”

Known as the “Watering Hole” this is sure to add a lot of viewing fun.

Kite continued his morning by providing some golf coaching and words of encouragement to some young patients from Children’s of Alabama hospital, the primary beneficiary of the Regions Tradition, who were onsite at Topgolf for the occasion.

He also noted the Regions Tradition’s prime spot on the golfing calendar being a month after The Masters and as the first major on the PGA Tour Champions. Hosted by Greystone Golf & Country Club on their Founders Course, it is long established in this market and will be played May 17-20. Always a very strong field, PGA Tour Champions legend Bernhard Langer is the two-time defending champion.

 

Ian Thompson has been writing about golf in Alabama for over 24 years. His weekly “Mr. Golf” column concentrates on golfers, golf events and people associated with the sport of interest to the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham areas. Reach him with story ideas at thompsonteesoff@gmail.com