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Phil Neely proves golf is a lifetime passion

One day awhile back, a truck loaded with golf trophies and sweet memories drove away from Phil Neely’s home. He had donated them to an organization that was going to replace the nameplates and give them to kids participating in a golf program.

“Good Lord,” Neely said, “they filled up that truck. Must have been about 150 trophies, a houseful, and I had some more in a little shed out back. There are still 30 or 40 here in the house.”

Those trophies, dating back to 1974, represent a lifetime of playing good golf and winning. Nothing big. You won’t find his name on the rolls of city champions or state champions. He and the late Donald Littlejohn won some pretty good four-ball events (“Lord a mercy,” he said. “we must have won 25 or 30 or more.”) And if the results of a minor tournament held around here appeared in the paper, you could usually see Phil Neely listed there somewhere. It happened again a month or two ago, his name among the leaders in some little tournament a world removed from the big time but still meaningful to those who played.

Listen to Neely and you hear the love of the game and the feel of competition, the chase. Maybe it’s not the US Open, but it’s golf and they’ll give you a trophy if you play well. Everyman golf.

The trophies are not from the rich country clubs like Quail Hollow or Charlotte; they are from courses like Renaissance Park, Charles T. Myers, Crowders Mountain, public fee courses. But golf’s golf.

Neely is 69 years old, retired after 48 years with the Pepsi Cola bottling company. He stands six feet tall and weighs around 170 but he carries a handicap of four and says, “I can still pop it out there 275 yards, 285, sometimes 300. I still have the same big swing I had 20 years ago. I still move it pretty good.

“But my putter see-saws up and down. Some days I make some good ones and some days I make none.”

Neely started playing golf as a kid in Rock Hill. He caddied some, took a liking to the game and he and some others built a few holes in a cow pasture.

His first set of clubs came from Sears Roebuck. Sam Snead Blue Ridge models.

Somewhere back there in his younger days, he says, he shot a 59 at Sunset Hills Golf Club. The days of such eye-popping scores are gone but the affection for the game hasn’t diminished, he said.

“Golf to me means a lot of fun,” he said. “I just enjoy getting a group together and talking junk and still being serious playing golf, just having a good time.”

And if there’s a trophy involved, all the better.