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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Mark Wilson has his first PGA Tour win, and his sack lunch.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times staff writer
Published March 8, 2007
Mark Wilson began his first full day as a darn-near-millionaire with a quick trip to the grocery store. He always packs a chicken and swiss cheese sandwich to take with him to the golf course for lunch.
Tuesday was a typical day.
Except, of course, for the 25 congratulatory e-mails he returned after breakfast, the 26 hands he shook walking to the driving range, the TV crew that filmed him hitting balls and the extra $990,000 in his bank account one day after claiming his first PGA Tour victory.
Wilson, 32, won the Honda Classic in a four-man playoff Monday, a long-awaited victory that turned a journeyman golfer into a celebrity in the span of 24 hours. Hoping to shift his focus to the PODS Championship that begins today at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Wilson couldn't walk 3 feet Tuesday without being stopped.
"I'm really proud of you."
"You need to update your Web site."
Wilson's victory is a popular one among the tour's traveling band of players, caddies and officials because it gives hope to everyone with a smooth swing and an oversized dream. Wilson is anything but an instant success.
For five years he scraped out a living on the Hooters and Nationwide tours. For two years he played in Australia. Ten times he went to PGA Tour Qualifying School.
Never knowing from week to week which tournaments he could play because he lacked the tour's coveted exempt status, he spent four years with his fingers crossed. One-hundred-ten times he teed it up in PGA events without winning.
A 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole Monday changed everything.
From now on, Wilson will fly a little more, drive a little less. He will be exempt through the 2009 season, assured a spot in every full-field event. He will play at Bay Hill and Memorial and Colonial. Maybe even the Masters. And it almost didn't happen.
Wilson's first victory was made even more memorable by the fact he nearly took himself out of contention by admitting to a relatively harmless rules infraction that carried a two-stroke penalty.
During Friday's round, Wilson's caddie, Chris Jones, inadvertently offered advice to Camilo Villegas and his caddie. Wilson overheard the exchange, in which Jones volunteered that the hybrid club Wilson had just hit had an 18-degree face. Wilson consulted a rules official knowing the outcome.
His round of 64 became 66.
"It's against the rules to give advice, and I had to call it on myself," Wilson said. "From what I've heard from other players, that rule is apparently broken out here sometimes and players don't hold it in high regard. Maybe it will be different now."
Like so much else.
Hardly high rollers
A year ago, Wilson and his wife, Amy, bought their first house in Elmhurst, Ill. They are expecting their first child in September.
Now, furnishing the nursery will be a cinch.
But it likely will take some time for Wilson to adjust to the concept of wealth. He and Amy celebrated Monday night with dinner at an Old Chicago restaurant. They each had one beer - hers nonalcoholic - and ran the bill up to a whopping $40.
"I was so hungry," Wilson said. "I wanted deep-dish pizza because it's my favorite, but it takes a half-hour to fix. So I had lasagna. And a beer. Stella, my favorite."
Monday morning, after zipping through the grocery, Wilson stood over an ironing board at the Innisbrook condominium the couple is calling home this week, pressing the suitcase wrinkles out of black pants and an ivory shirt.
"I hope they look okay," he said.
His ensemble included one new wrinkle: the look of a winner.
Warming up for Tuesday's practice round took twice as long as usual because of the stream of well-wishers. Twice he interrupted his driving range routine to take cell phone calls. On the putting green, pal Cliff Kresge took Wilson's putter and rubbed it against his hoping to swipe some mojo from the week's reigning winner.
When Wilson finally stepped to the No. 1 tee on the Copperhead course at 12:45 p.m., a man in the small gallery outside the ropes whispered to his wife: "That's the guy who won the playoff."
After the round, Wilson spent 10 more minutes on the putting green and 20 on the driving range before heading back to the condo. Exhausted, he and Amy scrapped plans to eat out and made another run to the grocery store.
"Chicken and rice, peas and a salad," Wilson said. "It's my favorite meal to cook on the road. I can handle chicken and rice."