‘Chicken Wing’ Golfer Challenges Tiger Woods for Masters Jacket

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April 8 (Bloomberg) — Steve Wilson, a Mississippi filling station owner with a “chicken wing” swing, will take on Tiger Woods tomorrow at the Masters Tournament.

Wilson earned an invitation to the 75-year-old Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September. At 39, he will be the oldest of the five non-pros competing at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, with Woods and 100 other golfers including Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.

“I’m not going to look anything like those guys,” said Wilson, co-owner of stations in Gautier, Mississippi, and Theodore, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. “I’ve got a lot of stuff that I don’t do textbook.”

The professionals will vie for a purse that in 2008 was $7.5 million; this year’s will be disclosed April 12, the match’s last day. While Wilson can’t pocket any money no matter how low he scores, he prepared by playing Augusta 15 times after gaining “honorary member” status with his amateur triumph.

“I’m pretty sure I have worn out my welcome,” the Ocean Springs, Mississippi, resident said.

Wilson’s goal is to be among the lowest-scoring 44 contenders or within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds so he can continue over the weekend. His other aim is to keep from dislocating his left shoulder, which he estimates he’s done while playing 10 times in the past decade.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

To prevent more injuries, Wilson employs a swing that he calls the “chicken wing.” Rather than following through with the club, he keeps his left elbow extended after impact in a defensive move that relieves pressure on the joint.

Part-Time Pro

Woods, a four-time winner of the green Masters jacket, offered Wilson advice yesterday at a press conference.

“Hit it straight, hit it on the greens and make the putts,” said Woods, 34, who has endorsement agreements with Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike Inc. and Dallas-based AT&T.

“Whether you’re 19 or 39, it doesn’t matter,” Woods said. “It’s just the greatest thing to experience this for the first time.”

Wilson spent 10 years as a part-time pro, stopping in 2005 and petitioning the U.S. Golf Association to regain his amateur status. He said the more momentous occurrence that year was Hurricane Katrina, which left the house he shares with his wife and 9-year-old son under 4 1/2 feet of water.

Depending on how he fares at the Masters and the U.S. Open in June, Wilson said he would consider giving pro golf another try and do it full-time if he could find a sponsor, fulfilling a dream he’s had since he picked up a club as a pre-teen.

“I never really gave it a true shot,” he said.

Beef and Gravy

Wilson won the 2007 Mississippi Amateur, the 2008 Mississippi Mid-Amateur and qualified for the 2006 U.S. Mid- Amateur, losing in the first round. At last year’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Milwaukee Country Club in River Hills, Wisconsin, — open to all golfers over 25 with a maximum handicap of 3.4 — Wilson one-putted 14 times over the final 32 holes.

The other non-pros at Augusta this year are the winners of the U.S. amateur, British Amateur and U.S. public links championships and the U.S. amateur runner-up.

Along the Gulf Coast, Wilson figures he isn’t as celebrated for his drives as the po-boys sold at his Fayard’s BP stations, which pump gasoline made by London-based BP Plc, not Masters sponsor Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

“You know, roast beef and gravy, hot pressed and all that,” Wilson said of the French-bread sandwiches that were ranked the region’s third best po-boys by Biloxi.com. “We’re kind of famous in this area for that.”

No ‘Golden Spoon’

Wilson, whose bag at Augusta will bear the Mississippi Golf Association logo, figures the final bill for taking part in the Masters may be $15,000.

“He’s not wealthy by any means,” said Mark Mumley, one of Wilson’s golfing buddies. “He doesn’t have a golden spoon.”

Mumley, a 58-year-old retired software executive, helped organize a fundraiser at a Biloxi country club to help cover Wilson’s Masters-related expenses. Wilson, who grew up along the Gulf Coast, ended up refusing the $5,000 Mumley collected.

Wilson donated the money to a local junior golf program because he didn’t like to feel as if he was “begging,” he said. He did accept a friend’s offer of a free place to stay in Augusta during the tournament and will rely on his savings and credit cards to cover expenses.

Grand Slam

Whatever the final tab, he said it will be worth it to play at Augusta, founded in 1933 by Bobby Jones, the only golfer to win four major championships — the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur — in the same calendar year.

When Wilson first saw the course in December, he said he thought of the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz’’ and Judy Garland as Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl swept away in a tornado to a magical land.

“You know, when it’s black and white and then she lands in Oz and the colors are just so bright and everything,” he said. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It smelled better, and it was prettier and sunnier.”

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One Response to “‘Chicken Wing’ Golfer Challenges Tiger Woods for Masters Jacket”

  1. richardhead85 Says:

    Taking a week off are we?

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