Grizzly Davie golf vets take Labor Day title

Published 2:15 pm Monday, September 11, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

When Charlie Barr hit a sensational shot on the par-3 17 with the semifinal battle against Davie County’s Uly Grisette and Jeffrey Lankford tied, Barr and teammate Josh Brincefield could smell victory in the semifinals of the championship flight.

But little did Barr/Brincefield know that Lankford, 37 years removed from All-America honors at N.C. State, was about to have one more date with destiny.

Barr’s ball was four feet from the hole. But when the incredible and ridiculous Lankford put the clubface on his tee ball, he knew …

Before we look at Lankford’s answer on 17, let’s educate the young’uns out there about Grisette and Lankford. They have been golfing icons in Davie County since the 1980s. They were teammates on Davie’s 1982 powerhouse team.

Labor Day Golf Semi-finals: Jeff Lankford tees off on number 4. photo by Wayne Hinshaw

Lankford, who graduated from Davie in 1982, was All-ACC as a N.C. State sophomore and senior. He was a first team All-American in 1986. He made the PGA Tour in 1988. He captured nine major championships in the Carolinas Professional Golf Association. He played in the PGA Championship five times in a span of six years in the late 1990s/2000s.

Labor Day Golf Semi-finals: Uly Grisete tees off on number 4. photo by Wayne Hinshaw

Grisette, who graduated from Davie in 1984, joined Lankford at N.C. State and qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an individual in 1987. In 1985 he won the North Carolina Amateur title. He also won the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1988. In the grueling PGA Tour Qualifying tournament in 1993, he missed his PGA Tour card by one stroke. From 1990-96, he played professionally on the European Tour and Nike Tour. He played in five PGA Tour events, including a tie for 15th in the Chattanooga Classic and a round at 9-under 63 in a tournament in Branson, Mo.

When Grisette and Lankford decided to compete in the Crowder-Dorsett Four-Ball Memorial Labor Day Golf Tournament at the Country Club of Salisbury, an annual event that always attracts a star-studded field, they were not only playing against 20-somethings who hit mammoth drives, they were playing against time.

But the Davie legends held off Father Time, won the championship flight with four victories in three days and became the oldest champions in the 71-year history of the championship flight (combined age of 116).

Lankford, 59, is a member of the CC of Salisbury but had never competed in the Labor Day tourney. Grisette, 57, had played Salisbury only a handful of times since high school. The Davie High hall of famers had not been teammates since they played together at N.C. State in 1985-86.

The Labor Day tournament featured 340 golfers and 170 teams, with 120 teams competing in three days of match play.

“They were tough because nothing rattles them,” Brincefield told the Salisbury Post. “Every shot they hit comes off the center of the clubface. They’re great guys. They were fun for Charlie and I  to play with, and they were fun to watch. I knew Jeff, but I had never met Uly. Uly is kind of a hidden legend that no one actually had seen. He’s an unassuming guy. He walks up to the first tee on Monday and says: ‘Hi, I’m Uly.’”

The Davie duo had their qualifying round Aug. 25. They turned in a 6-under 66, but that was only good for a No. 5 seed. It looked like Eric Edwards/Alex Nianouris, who are in their 20s, might own the tournament after they shot 61 in qualifying, good for the No. 2 seed. Brincefield and Barr were the top seed as the defending champs.

Grisette was caught offguard when he pulled into the parking lot and saw a spectacle.

“I thought it would be a typical Saturday/Sunday tournament, play two days and that would be it,” he said. “I had no idea it was three days. I was surprised it was that big of an event. But we had so much fun. Jeff is about as laidback as you get. The course is really good. (Ron) Bivins (the course Superintendent for 30-plus years who lives in Cooleemee)  does such a good job. It’s a really nice club.”

Lankford and Grisette might be pushing 60, but they’re not golfing antiques quite yet. Their internal fires were stoked by the Labor Day challenge, and they’re both as even-keeled as they come.

“I didn’t really care what we were seeded,” Grisette said. “When you’ve got Lankford as your partner, you feel pretty good about your chances. But then you get out there and anything can happen in match play. Then you see that (a team) shot 61 in the qualifier, and you know that’s not luck. You realize there’s good players everywhere. There’s three people on my street that can beat me on a bad day.”

On Saturday, Sept. 2, Grisette/Lankford opened with a 4 and 3 win over Wes Cline/Jordan Taylor. It was just like it used to be at Davie and State.

“Our games are similar,” Grisette said. “We hit the same yardage, same clubs. We’re pretty straight. Same demeanor. Jeffrey played really good on Saturday. I helped him a few holes, but I didn’t need to help him much. The rest of the time, we both helped each other along.”

In the Sunday quarterfinals, Grisette/Lankford rolled past Andre Robinson/Terrain Gill, 6 and 5. They sculpted a 7-under score through 13 holes. While Grisette birdied No. 1 and eagled No. 3, Lankford rattled off five birdies.

“It’s fun playing against these young guys because they’re good and they hit it so far,” Grisette said. “I can remember being that age and thinking there’s no way those old guys are going to beat me. We had over 70 years on a couple teams.”

“Uly’s game is as solid as anyone I’ve played with,” Lankford said. “It’s easy to play when you have a partner like Uly. He’s always in the hole, so he makes it easy for me to play my game. He’s one of the best drivers I’ve played with.”

On Monday morning, Grisette/Lankford had an epic semifinal showdown against the defending champs. Barr is a junior at High Point University who played in the U.S. Amateur this year. Grisette/Lankford roared to a three-hole lead, but the defending champs charged back. Brincefield/Barr birdied 14, 15 and 16 to tie things up.

That set the stage for the fateful 17th hole.

“We’ve got honors and we’ve got the momentum,” Brincefield said. “Then I hear the crowd roaring when Charlie hits his shot. It’s (219) yards and Charlie puts it four feet from the hole.”

“We were three up with five to go, and we kind of thought it was over,” Grisette said. “We were kind of fading.”

The drama was heightened by a large crowd.

“There were probably 100 people watching the last matches,” Lankford said.

“There were a lot of people watching us play,” Grisette said. “The majority of the crowd was rooting for Charlie because he lives there. My wife (Tonya) came for the last match on Monday. I said: ‘Now honey, you’re the only one pulling for us.’ Maybe Ron Bivins was pulling for us. We joked about that, but all the members were real nice.”

After Barr threw a dart, there stood a weary but unflappable Lankford. The rivals were in prime position to take the lead, and Lankford needed to work some magic. He pulled a 4-hybrid out of his bag and hit the most gorgeous shot you ever saw. It was a frozen rope that stopped two feet from the hole. With the pressure on, he damned near aced it.

“Lankford hit one of the best shots I’ve ever seen, especially considering we were even,” Grisette said. “He hit it inside of Charlie. It never left the flag. As soon as he hit it, he said: ‘Get in the hole!’ If it’d gone another two feet, it would have gone in. We would have lost that match had he not hit that shot.”

“It’s one of the best shots I’ve ever hit considering the situation,” Lankford said.

Barr, who had a sidehill break on his putt, missed. Lankford, putting straight uphill, drained his to give Davie the lead. Both teams parred 18, resulting in a 1-up win for the grizzly vets.

“Charlie beat himself up a little bit for the miss, but that’s a tough putt,” Brincefield said. “You have that putt 50 times and you’re going to miss it 25 times.”

In the other semifinal, Keith Dorsett/Jacob Smith squeezed past Edwards/Nianouris 1-up.

The temperature was 90-plus. Were the Davie guys going to overheat in the final?

“All Uly and I talked about was whether or not we’d have the legs to play two matches in one day,” Lankford said.

“We got tired and both of us got sloppy a few holes (in the final),” Grisette said. “But to be honest with you, I think I would have been tired if I was 30 – playing in 95-degree weather and you’re out there for eight hours.”

“I’m 47 and I was completely exhausted after 18,” Brincefield said.

In the final, Grisette’s outrageous putter – there was a 30-footer for birdie that destiny allowed him to ram into the cup – led a 2 and 1 victory over Dorsett/Smith.

“Uly’s putter got hot as hell on the back nine,” Lankford said.

“I made three birdies in a row late,” Grisette said. “I made a really long putt and that put us ahead.”

They cherished the victory of reaching back to another era and snatching the hardware from elite youngsters. Thanks to their incredible play, we all feel 20 years younger today.

“We’ll probably be hitting it a few yards shorter next year, but we hope to be back to defend,” Lankford said.

“At nearly 60 years old, you can still compete with young players,” Grisette said. “What other sport can you compete against young kids? Golf is the only one, and that’s the beauty of the game.”