By Bill Oram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 24, 2009
Standing over the first tee at Loudoun Golf and Country Club, Joey McLister held form, his driver dangling behind his left shoulder, as his eyes followed the path of the ball he just sent flying over the trees.
"Yessir!" he exclaimed. "Early lead."
"No way," said his playing partner, who had yet to take a shot in their friendly practice round last Monday. "That's rough."
Kevin McLister, Joey's 20-year-old kid brother, centered himself over the tee and took his own shot. Joey cackled, made a crack about the ball being way to the left and sped off in his cart.
Turns out Joey's shot landed 20 yards from the pin on the fairway, allowing him an easy approach that left him with a two-foot putt for birdie. Kevin's ball somehow ended up behind the green, two feet in front of the cart path and perilously close to Purcellville's Main Street, maybe 15 feet from the pavement. Kevin said he was certain his ball ricocheted off something hard to land where it did.
"That lie doesn't look too good," chided Joey. Kevin calmly chipped onto the green, his ball coming to rest directly between Joey's ball and the hole.
The elder McLister hit Kevin's ball out of the way in disgust, granting his brother the "gimme."
"People always say you're ripping each other," Joey said. "No. It's just competition."
Joey, 24, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., and is a professional on the Gateway Tour, which has produced PGA Tour players such as 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson and Fairfax native Steve Marino. This was the last time he would get to play with Kevin -- who this fall will be a junior at Delaware, where Joey also played -- before his younger brother plays in the U.S. Amateur Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa starting Monday.
The banter continued as the round progressed. Kevin outplayed Joey, drawing cries of "Daggabit!" and other indecipherable hoots. Kevin ultimately shot a 3-under-par 69 on the course, where he first broke par as a freshman in high school, while Joey finished a stroke behind at 70.
While Joey tried to keep up with his younger brother, Kevin tried to maintain pace with Joey in the taunting department.
The redeeming fact here, the one that keeps the McListers from falling into the category of athletes who are great competitors but lousy sports, is that it's all an act. Joey wants nothing more than to see his younger brother succeed. Which is why, at the start of the summer, he invited Kevin to Scottsdale for what he called "Joey's Boot Camp."
Every day they would get up and work out, then spend three to four hours hitting balls. It would be the same in the afternoon. There was little playing, and much working. The whole month of June was spent in Arizona, improving Kevin's game, notably his putting -- a particular tormentor for Kevin, who last year typically was No. 4 for Delaware. Historically he would so overthink a short putt that he would end up pushing it past the cup.
"Playing professionally you learn a lot about golf," Joey said. "So I just taught him everything I know -- both about the game and the mental aspect."
He added: "Everything bad was happening, and he sort of fixed mostly his mental aspect of the game. He has had all the tools."
Delaware Coach Mike Keogh hasn't seen Kevin play this summer, but he is excited by the results.
"The kid just put in the hours," he said. "It doesn't get much simpler than that."
Kevin said he has spent all but five days on the golf course this summer. As he settled over his ball at the eighth tee, Joey ditched the costume of relentless teaser, lowered his voice and said, "He's had a huge amount of potential for so long, and he's had an awesome summer, just crushing these guys" -- he cuts himself off when it's his turn to tee off -- "This is where I make my move!"
Two weekends ago, Kevin appeared in the Amateur at International in Fairfax. He finished tied for eighth after shooting 74-71-73. "I didn't play how I wanted," he said.
No finish there, however, would have overtaken his performance at the Westwood Country Club in Vienna as the highlight of his summer. On Aug. 3-4, Kevin shot back-to-back rounds of 69 in the U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier, becoming the third Delaware Blue Hen to qualify for the premier event for non-professionals, and the second McLister.
Joey competed at the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. The format for this year's tournament starts with 312 golfers playing two rounds of stroke play at Southern Hills and nearby Cedar Ridge Country Club, and the top 64 move into match play for the championship. At Merion, Joey failed to make it to match play.
"He'll remember it for a lifetime," Joey said.
At Westwood, Kevin entered the second round tied for sixth. He told his father, Mike, that he was going to push hard, and that he didn't want to know what anybody else was doing. The top five golfers would make it to the U.S. Amateur, and there was no room for passive play or waiting to see what other players did.
So Kevin pushed and at one point made three birdies in a row. And Mike watched, not saying anything.
"He never told me," Kevin said, "but everybody else was falling back."
Kevin ultimately finished second among 135 players.
After putting out on the ninth hole last Monday at Loudoun Golf and Country Club, Kevin heard a man from a bench across another fairway yelling out, "Hey, congratulations over there! Good luck to you!"
When Joey hit his drive off 12th tee, the space that previously would have been filled with a boast was instead occupied by an "Oh no, oh no!"
"Oh yes!," said Kevin, shouting "Splash!" just before the ball plunked into the pond.
And at No. 17, when Kevin teed off, he blasted his shot over the pines, cutting off the dogleg of the daunting par 4. As he held form, driver dangling, eyes tracking his powerful drive, Joey groaned.
"Did that carry everything?" he asked. "You can do that these days?"