Bryce Molder Retires (From the Log Cabin Democrat 10/1/17)

Walking many miles over many years watching Bryce Molder

Time marched on and slapped me in the face last week.

Only a fraction of my 35 years at the Log Cabin Democrat has golfer Bryce Molder not been either a significant part or a popular element to our coverage.

Retire at age 38? Say, it isn’t so, Bryce.

I tried to figure how many miles I’ve walked or how many of Molder’s individual rounds I’ve recorded. The math eludes me.

I still had some splotches of black hair when I would receive short news releases from Barry Molder, Bryce’s father, about this young local golfer (he began playing at age 5) who was winning all kinds of tournaments in Arkansas and later nationally. I watched how he rose to become one of the top-ranked junior golfers in America. I chronicled how he became one of the few NCAA four-time, first-team, All-Americans while at Georgia Tech.

His inspiring story drew national attention because he had Poland Syndrome (born without a left pectoral muscle). He had two surgeries for webbed hands before age 5.

But he never used physical limitations as an excuse.

After Molder was carried off the 18th green by his teammates after helping clinch the Palmer Cup for America on the historic Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Mike Hengel (the LCD publisher the time) instructed that we never surrender the high ground on coverage of Molder.

Consequently, we’ve literally followed Molder from coast to coast. I’ve covered every round Molder played at NCAA tournaments at Hazeltine in Minnesota, Opelika (Auburn), Alabama and at the Duke Golf Course in Durham, N.C. I’ve recorded every round at U.S. Amateur tournaments at marquee courses at Pebble Beach in California and Baltusrol in New Jersey.

Colleagues were amazed that while they were covering hundreds of golfers at at tournament, I was primarily assigned to one.

Molder twice won the Jack Nicklaus Award as Collegiate Player of the Year (1998 and 2001). He also fired a 60 when playing with President Bill Clinton at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, just missing a chip shot for a 59.

When he turned pro in 2001, my primary association was covering many FedEx St. Jude Classics in Memphis. In some years, he would draw galleries of friends and supporters (rivaling that of John Daly) that stretched halfway down a par-4 fairway. One of his best efforts as a pro was when he finished in a tie for second with David Toms in 2009.

I’ve seen Molder make an assortment of fantastic shots (mostly chips and putts). I’ve observed the tremendous highs and wrenching lows. All the while, he displayed the same character, humility and honesty. He’s always had a wonderful ability to analyze a shot or a round with captivating insight and wit that went well beneath the surface. I’ve often thought he could be a great golf TV commentator if eventually he chose that direction.

And then Thursday during his induction into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame, Molder announced his retirement at age 38 because of the challenge of playing as a job vs. his role as a family man. He was running out of gas as far as fulfillment and fun on the sport he loves.

Molder doesn’t go into anything without a lot of thought.

Two of many scenes and stories about Bryce that capsulize him come to mind today.

When Molder filled out some form after he turned pro, the routine question came up of average weekly earnings. He wrote, (truthfully) “between zero and $1 million dollars.”

When Molder walked up the 18th fairway at Duke Golf Club at the NCAA tourney for his last round as a collegian, one of his playing partners was Ryan Hyble of the University of Georgia and an arch-rival. As he approached the green, Hyble’s father began a loud clap that was immediately joined by the gallery and crescendoed about the green. It was a heartwarming and spontaneous salute to a great career.

“I tried not to think that 18 was Bryce’s last hole until he putted,” said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler, his voice breaking, his hand wiping away tears. “I didn’t want to think that this was it for the best player in the history of college golf.”

As a collegian and as a pro — by fans, golf commentators, reporters, officials and fellow competitors— Molder was considered one of the good guys.

You can’t describe him without using some form of the world “class.”

He was that way in high school, in college and he’s that way as he leaves the game as a pro.

Thanks, Bryce, for giving me a bunch of thrills and and some of the greatest highlights of my career in watching you grow, develop and now move smoothly to another stage of your career.

Class indeed.

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