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Bobby Clampett’s golf dilemma: teach or play?

Bobby Clampett has faced golf’s obstacles for more than 40 years. But his current dilemma doesn’t involve a bad back, the yips or any other common golfer’s woe.

Rather, with a successful business, a desire to change golf and a Champions Tour career that demands more time than is available, Clampett’s quandary is simple.

Does he teach or does he play?

“I haven’t hit a shot since San Antonio (AT&T Championship, Oct. 14-16) and the reality is we are so busy running the business, I have so little time to even play right now,” said Clampett, the part-time resident of Carmel Valley who also lives in Bonita Springs, Fla. “I’m kind of doing some soul searching about what it is I need to focus on most.”

But at least for this week, Clampett will play. He’s among the field of 82 pros competing beginning Thursday in the 43rd edition of the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational.

The 72-hole event, played at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Old Del Monte, features current players from the major pro and auxiliary tours, club pros and four-player amateur teams.

Bobby Clampett is focused on teaching now than playing on the Champions Tour.
Bobby Clampett is now focused more on teaching than playing on the Champions Tour.

“It’s a fun event to play; there’s no pressure,” said Clampett, who hasn’t played in the tournament for six years. “I usually put the clubs away during this time of the year. I will pull them out of the closet literally, dust ’em off and go play.”

Last year, Clampett became a PGA Master Professional, the highest educational designation a PGA member can attain. Using the system he developed called Impact Zone Base Teaching, Clampett seeks to change golf’s surprising trend — declining participation for 10 straight years.

“The three main reasons,” Clampett rapidly cited. “It costs too much money. It takes too much time and people take lessons and don’t get any better.”

“What it really boils down to is where my great passion is. I love playing. I love the Champions Tour. I love being with my old friends out there and doing what I’ve been doing the past five years. But the reality is I’m the most passionate I know right now and that’s about helping golf and the way we teach golf. That’s what I’m going to spend more time on in 2015 than competing.”

Clampett has an expanding staff of instructors teaching the system detailed in The Impact Zone, his 2007 book.

“There been all these initiatives to change the game and make it easier, but that’s not where the answer lies,” said Clampett. “I feel we can make the biggest improvement in the way we teach golf. The average golfer is very unaware of the cause and effect relationship of where the ball goes and why it does.

“Everything is a mystery and an enigma. Players get frustrated and they end up quitting. My goal is to really help golf. We believe we are on the forefront of the way golf will be taught in the future.”

Clampett, 54, will be returning to a tournament he won in 1980 as a 19-year-old amateur. He’s played Pebble Beach since he first achieved amateur success as teenager attending Stevenson School.

“It’s awesome,” Clampett said with a chuckle about playing the famed course for about 40 years. “I never get tired of playing Pebble Beach. I absolutely love it.

“It’s gotten more difficult in recent years. Driving the ball is much more of a premium than it used to be. With the additions to holes, like what they’ve done like at the third and the sixth, well, they’ve really made those two driving holes much more difficult.

“Even the 18th hole. When the two trees fell down and they moved the new trees farther down the fairway that really made it tough for us old guys who can’t drive it past the trees. It’s a lot more challenging.”

Clampett is now more than three decades and nearly 350 tournaments removed from his last significant title.

Clampett’s victory at what was then the Spalding Invitational was the biggest of his career at a time when he was the country’s top-ranked amateur.

“The funny thing about it is that they didn’t even have a trophy for the winner,” Clampett recalled. “They just had a check, so when I won he (tournament director Harold Firstman) said, ‘We can’t send you away with nothing. We’ll get you a trophy.’ ”

In 1979, Clampett, playing for first time in the Spalding’s pro division, lost in a playoff to Al Geigerber, then a 10-time PGA Tour winner and two years removed from his historic “59” in the Danny Thomas Open.

“I remember how close I was to winning and I thought ‘You know, with a little more practice I could do this,’ ” said Clampett. “So I came home to Carmel the next year and played a bunch of practice rounds, I think it was nine, and I ended up winning.”

More success arrived quickly. He finished second in 1981 in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am and Buick Open, both in playoffs. He finished tied for third in the 1982 U.S. Open behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. Three months later, Clampett won the Southern Open. Nearly three-dozen top-three top-10 finishes followed, but no further PGA Tour wins.

After leaving his full-time PGA Tour career in 1995 for television broadcasting, Clampett joined the Champions Tour in 2010. He competes like any other veteran player — with a desire to win again.

“It’s no fun to play that many tournaments and not win,” he said. “I feel like Thomas Edison and the light bulb. How many times do you have to fail before you finally win?

“Clearly, I would love to win. But the reality is I left the game for 16 years for broadcasting. I really didn’t play at all. So I’ve really almost had to re-learn how to compete with all the new technologies and the way the game has changed.

“I have learned so much through that and it’s really helped my teaching. To learn and watch and spend time with so many of the great minds of the game. It’s been awesome.”
In his five Champions Tour seasons, Clampett has played in 87 tournaments, with 11 top-10 finishes. He competed in 17 tournaments this season with one top-10 finish and earned about $163,000 — his lowest on the Champions Tour.

The statistics are humbling. But as much as Clampett seeks improved tournament success, he’s also realist. The status he’s achieved off the course makes for more impressive equations.

He’s had fewer assignments, but he maintains an impressive television tenure approaching a quarter century of broadcasting The Masters and PGA Championship.

Following the Callaway Invitational, Clampett’s playing future is unknown.

“That’s a really good question,” he said regarding next season’s Champions Tour. “I really don’t know. I’m trying to figure it all out.”

(Originally published in the Monterey Herald on Nov. 29, 2014.)