No shirt, no shoes and a bum hip, but Blake Adams has plenty of game

No shirt, no shoes and a bum hip, but Blake Adams has plenty of game

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David Walberg/SI

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Blake Adams is not playing with a titanium or ceramic left hip, and his wife is fairly certain he hasn’t broken all 10 fingers, as has been reported. It is true that Adams routinely practices on his 300-acre homestead in tiny Nunez, Ga., wearing shorts and in bare feet, without a shirt, while listening to country music.

What’s wrong with that?

“He was out there the other day,” said his wife, Beth, as she followed Adams around TPC Sawgrass in the second round of the Players Championship on Friday. “I said, ‘My gosh, Blake, you have got to work on your tan.’”

After posting a six-under 66 in the first round, Adams fought swirling breezes and wasn’t as sharp in shooting a 73 Friday. He was five under par and tied for 10th place going into the weekend, three off the lead. Not bad, all things considered.

“I didn’t play great today, didn’t play awful,” Adams said after making three bogeys and two birdies. “Hung in there, battled through it, and we’ll try again tomorrow.”

For a decade, it was an open question whether Adams would make it to the Tour. He had the game. His coach, John Tillery, who traveled the mini-tours with Adams, was convinced of Adams’s otherworldly talent during a practice round for a mini-tour event, most likely in North Carolina, about six years ago. Adams piled out of his truck after a six-hour drive and, with his second swing out of the car, hit a 3-wood that flew “about nine miles in the air” — Tillery’s words — and about 275 yards to the green. The ball fell out of the sky and settled a foot from the pin.

“That’s when I thought, This guy’s a little different,” said Tillery.

The problem was Adams’s left hip, which has given him problems all his life. His back also pains him, especially in cold weather, after a childhood spent sacrificing his body to the rigors of football (quarterback), baseball (shortstop, pitcher) and basketball (shooting guard). Adams goes for treatment before and after rounds now, but there were no vans full of physical therapists on the minitours.

“Every time Q-school would roll around at the end of the year, his hip was so damaged he couldn’t get through,” said Chris Adams, Blake’s older brother, a former Vanderbilt golfer and one of several family members watching Adams at his second Players. (Blake shot 72-76 to miss the cut last year.) “His hip just wore down, and it took him 10 years to figure out how to manage it.”

A hip replacement is not a matter of “if” but “when,” and until then Adams is taking cortisone shots. He hasn’t won on Tour, but he has won everywhere else he’s played, even if he was sometimes so sore he couldn’t touch his knees the next day.

After one particularly encouraging tournament, a second-place finish on the Tarheel tour on Easter Sunday of 2004, the day Phil Mickelson won the Masters, Blake called his father, who had taught him the game, to relay the good news. It turned out Mike Adams was having a heart attack back in Dalton, Ga., where Blake grew up. It fell to Chris to tell his brother their dad had died; Blake has worn all black on Sundays ever since.

“That was a tough day,” Chris said. “We’d love to have had our dad walking around with us out here for at least one year.”

Blake finally got to the PGA Tour by Monday-qualifying into events on the Nationwide tour, where he finished third on the money list in 2009. He’s made slow but steady progress since then, finishing 98th on the PGA Tour money list in 2010, when he tied for second at the Byron Nelson, and 84th last year. This year has been a mixed bag, with just six made cuts in 14 starts, including a failure to make it to the weekend rounds at the Wells Fargo Championship last weekend.

Not to worry. Adams and his caddie, Barry Williams, hunted wild hogs at night and fished for bass during the day back at the Adams spread in no-stoplight Nunez, a town of about 130 people about an hour and 15 minutes by pickup truck from the nearest airport, in Savannah. “Blake likes quiet,” Chris said.

Alas, gun shots are the exception, as turkeys are in season. Jake Adams, Blake and Beth’s son, shoots with Dad and already owns a handful of guns. He’s 4.

“My daddy bought him one before he was born,” Beth said. “A little, blue .22 rifle. He bought Libby a little pink one before she was born.”

Libby, their daughter, is 2.

You might be a redneck if your toddlers own firearms, or if you call yourself one on the radio, as Adams did Thursday. He wore jeans and a pair of boots to the Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge, a pro-am at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., two weeks ago. Beth, wearing a dress, looked around at some of the other men in attendance and was alarmed to see they’d mostly donned sports coats.

Beth: “Do you feel uncomfortable?”

Blake: “Why?”

At the end of last year, Adams had a decision to make: He could either get a tractor, which he really wanted, or build a golf practice area. Beth asked him which choice would benefit him the most, and there wasn’t much doubt as to the answer. Adams had a friend in the synthetic-greens business, and Beth’s dad, who lives just four miles up the road, already had a tractor. Adams built the practice area.

Blake, who briefly drove a forklift shortly after turning pro in 2001, will play for $1.7 million this weekend. He’ll have to figure out what to wear Sunday, Mother’s Day, when players are being encouraged to wear pink to support breast cancer awareness. Adams may wear his traditional black, but with a pink cap.

His mom, Freda, and stepdad, Mike, will cheer him on along with the rest of the Adams family. It’s quite a party. It’s quite a story.

“There’s just something to be said for moving up through the ranks,” Blake said, “so that when you do get here, you appreciate everything that you have.”

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