On Grand Strand Golf: Vietnam War survivor reunites with golf great Casper at Masters

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 28, 2014 

Vietnam War survivor Clebe McClary (right) reunites with golf great Billy Casper at the Masters 46 years after their first meeting.

WETZEL, DAVID — Submitted photo

The first trip to a Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club is a special moment for anyone who appreciates the game of golf.

Clebe McClary, 72, of Pawleys Island attended his first Masters earlier this month – a Tuesday practice round – and it was a special occasion for reasons that have little to do with the game, other than it involves one of its legends.

Behind the clubhouse at Augusta National that Tuesday, McClary was reunited after 46 years with the man he credits with saving his life.

In 1968, McClary was a Marine Lieutenant in charge of a 12-man reconnaissance team in Vietnam and was gravely injured in a firefight. By his account, he was on his deathbed in a hospital in Japan, and had already accepted death.

“I’d given up wanting to live,” said McClary, who thought of his teenage wife, Deanna. “I thought, ‘If I just die, my wife can do a lot better than me.’ ”

Billy Casper, a winner of 51 PGA Tour tournaments who was at the height of his illustrious career, was in Japan playing in an offseason event and was visiting all of the wounded U.S. soldiers in the hospital.

Casper spotted a young Marine who had been wounded to the point where he was barely identifiable, and was told by a doctor not to waste his time because that soldier was ready to die. But Casper chose to approach the man anyway.

“I was about out of it and I remember the doctor saying, and [Casper] remembered it too, ‘Don’t worry about him, don’t waste your time. He’s not going to make it,’ ” McClary said. “[Casper] said, ‘I love you and I’m praying for you, and God has a plan for your life.’ I needed that, believe me. It gave me the want to live again. You have to have a want to live, and he gave me that.”

McClary lost his left arm and left eye and said he underwent 41 surgeries during more than two years in hospitals, but he survived.

Casper and McClary hadn’t seen each other since that day in the hospital before they met up again on April 8.

“I bet we hugged each other and couldn’t let go for five minutes,” said McClary, who has spent the past 40 years as a motivational speaker. “People were walking by I’m sure thinking, ‘What’s the matter with these two old guys?’ I had no idea he would remember and he remembered me and all the details about it like it was yesterday.”

“Nobody paid him to come to that hospital. He just came in because he cared. He is a great man, no doubt about it.”

McClary and Casper cried together, as did many around them, including members of Casper’s family. “I didn’t think we’d quit,” McClary said.

The reunion was set up by nine-time PGA Tour winner Jay Haas, who has a vacation home in Pawleys Island that makes him a neighbor of McClary. The two men spend time together when Haas is in town, and McClary looks after the golfer’s property, as well. He’s cutting grass and picking up tree limbs on Haas’ property this week.

McClary said Haas has read the book about McClary’s life titled “Living Proof,” and he had also mentioned to Haas the inspiration he took from Casper’s words in 1968.

Casper attends the Masters as a past champion, having won a green jacket in 1970, and Haas goes every year as well. He played in 22 Masters, his uncle Bob Goalby won the 1968 Masters and his son, Bill, has been a regular competitor in recent years.

McClary was invited to the Masters by friend George Hill, the Religious Education Director at Fort Gordon, Ga., who has enlisted McClary to speak at the military base many times.

McClary had never paid much attention to golf and didn’t know who Casper was at the time of the hospital visit. “I thought golf was something you did when you’re 90 years old,” he said.

He has finally taken an interest in the game in the past year. His right hand has three fingers that still function relatively well for his one-armed swing. “I love it. I’ve gone crazy over it,” McClary said. “I don’t holler, ‘Fore,’ I yell, ‘Eight.’ I only have three fingers working so the club goes farther than the ball.”

He was looking forward to attending his first Masters for the golf aspect, but that was before he learned Casper would be there, too. “After he learned that Casper was going to be there, that’s all he talked about and wanted to do was meet him,” Hill said.

Hill and McClary were expecting to meet Casper around 11 a.m., but they were pressed for time after taking a walk around Amen Corner. “We kept getting stopped by people who recognized Clebe, people he had spoken to their groups,” Hill said. “I bet we got stopped on at least six to eight occasions by people in the crowd who recognized him and called his name out.”

Though they hadn’t seen each other in 46 years, McClary said he had spoken to Casper three times on the phone to chat and thank him, the first being shortly after he was initially released from the hospital in 1970.

McClary is a Georgetown native who was a high school football coach before enlisting in the Marines at the age of 26. He married Deanna, a cheerleader and beauty pageant contestant, shortly before he left the Grand Strand for Vietnam and they’re celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary this year.

McClary has averaged about 200 speaking engagements per year for the past 40 years. He said he has spoken to just about every group imaginable – countless military groups, corporate groups, pro and college sports teams including Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys 18 times, and high school students including at “every high school in Alabama.” He just returned from speaking to a group of 160 wounded warriors in Panama City, Fla.

He converted a 1964 Trailways bus into a tour bus and said he covered 2.5 million miles over 17 years, and had a high of 452 speaking engagements one year.

As a motivational speaker, he knows the power even one person’s words can have in a person’s life.

“I was about as close to death as you can get and not be dead,” McClary said. “God had a purpose for me. I should have died about 10 times.”

Ocean Course on top

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, which has played host to the 1991 Ryder Cup matches and the 2012 PGA Championship, again has been selected the “Best Golf Course in South Carolina” for 2014-15 in biennial balloting by the South Carolina Golf Course Rating Panel.

Eleven Grand Strand courses made the top 50. The Dunes Golf and Beach Club is the highest-ranked course at No. 8, followed by Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (No. 13), Tidewater Golf Club and Plantation (25), Wachesaw Plantation Club (28), True Blue Plantation (33), DeBordieu Club (38), The Reserve Club in Pawleys Island (40), Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club (46), the Grande Dunes Resort Course (47), TPC of Myrtle Beach (49) and Prestwick Country Club (50). Prestwick is one of six courses new to the list in 2014.

Other courses in the top 10, in order, are May River Golf Club in Palmetto Bluff, Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville, Greenville Country Club’s Chanticleer Course, Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, Yeamans Hall Club in Hanahan, Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, Secession Golf Club in Beaufort and Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken.

The panel is composed of 125 golf enthusiasts from throughout the state and represents a diverse range of occupations, handicaps and backgrounds. Members are split evenly between four regions: Upstate, Midlands, Lowcountry and Grand Strand, and 20 percent are women.

Judging criteria include routing, variety, strategy, equity, memorability, aesthetics and experience. The best courses, public or private, are selected in even-numbered years, and the best public courses are ranked in odd-numbered years.

BMW names celebs

Twenty-five celebrities will be in Greenville from May 15-18 for the Web.com Tour’s 2014 BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation, including 10 first-time participants. Officials also announced two new celebrity components, including featured celebrity groupings and the inclusion of six celebrities in Sunday’s final round.

First-time participants include Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Golf Channel broadcaster Lisa Cornwell, Debbe Dunning (Home Improvement), actor/comedian Bill Engvall, Allstate spokesman and actor Dennis Haysbert (24), actor Richard Karn (Home Improvement), Jordan Masterson (Last Man Standing), Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, sportscaster and model Win McMurry and Rob Riggle (The Hangover, The Daily Show).

Returning celebrities include Anthony Anderson (Guys with Kids), musician Steve Azar, Catherine Bell (Army Wives), Andy Buckley (The Office), Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice), Greg Ellis (24), Oliver Hudson (Nashville), musician Josh Kelley, Greg Kinnear (Rake), Danny Masterson (Men at Work), John O’Hurley (Seinfield), Michael Pena (Shooter), Paula Trickey (The O.C.), Gary Valentine (Here Comes the Boom) and Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement).

Three featured celebrity groupings who will play together Thursday through Saturday and the six lowest-scoring celebrities will advance to Sunday’s final round.

The featured celebrity groups will pair two pro-celebrity teams together and will include the following pairs: comedian duo O’Hurley and Engvall, Tool Time duo Karn and Dunning from “Home Improvement” and actor-brother pairing Danny and Jordan Masterson.

In previous years, the lowest-scoring 14 pro-am teams made the cut to Sunday’s round. This year, the 10 lowest-scoring pro-am teams will play Sunday along with the six low celebrities.

The tournament’s annual celebrity concert will be headlined by The Bacon Brothers, consisting of actor Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon, an award-winning composer for film and television. The concert is Friday, May 16, on the TD Stage at the Peace Center.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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