Before he walked toward what seemed a routine tap-in for par on his final hole of the Booz Allen Classic late yesterday morning, Jay Don Blake told playing partner Patrick Sheehan that he was about to do something extraordinary. Sheehan nodded that he understood.
Blake learned some 90 minutes before teeing off that his mother, Ilene, had died -- and he wanted to "give her a tribute" by shooting her age, 85. That required seven putts from 11 inches, and a gallery of no more than a few dozen was astounded by his lightly tapping the ball around and around the hole until reaching 85.
Blake said he almost withdrew from the tournament before it began when he learned that Ilene, who had been in a care center for about three years, had taken a turn for the worse. He also thought about not playing yesterday after learning about her death during a phone call from his brother as he was driving to TPC at Avenel.
"She would have wanted me to be here," Blake said on his way to the parking lot. "I was trying, but I wasn't into it. I just wanted to give her a tribute."
Blake's effort was evident when he birdied the first hole, after hitting a 131-yard fairway bunker shot to four feet and making the putt, and the 17th, when his tee shot again landed four feet from the cup and he sank the putt.
That Blake wasn't into it was evident by his double bogeys on the seventh, 10th, 13th and 14th holes. He finished last for the tournament with a 69-70-77-85 -- 301, eight strokes behind John Daly. Had he made the routine par on 18, he still would have finished last.
Blake, 45, is a native of Utah who has said he knew by age 12 that he wanted to be a pro golfer. He won the 1981 NCAA title as a junior at Utah State and was runner-up the next year. He finished out of the top 150 on the money list last season for the first time in a 17-year PGA Tour career that includes just one victory, the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open.
During his time on tour, he has developed numerous friendships. One has been with Dicky Pride, another often-struggling veteran, who was his playing partner here Saturday and among the first to offer condolences yesterday.
"I saw him at his locker, crying," Pride said, "and I put my arm around him." Pride revealed the next part of the conversation:
"Did your mom know you loved her?"
"That's more than most people have."