Mississippi athletes in headlines

It was Earl Warren, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who once said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

In Mississippi, here lately, we’ve had plenty of accomplishments to read about. On the sports page, that is. To wit:

• Braden Thornberry, a 20-year-old Ole Miss Rebel golfer from Olive Branch, was chosen to represent the U.S. in the Walker Cup matches, which will be played at Los Angeles Country Club Sept. 9-10. The biennial competition features the best amateur golfers in the U.S. against a team from Britain and Ireland.

This is yet another achievement for Thornberry in what is surely the most remarkable year of amateur golf ever produced by a Mississippian. Thornberry won five collegiate tournaments, including the NCAA Championship. He won the Haskins Trophy, golf’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy as just a sophomore. He won the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament of Champions in Johnstown, Pa., against an international field.

Thornberry is ranked No. 3 in men’s world amateur golf rankings and knocked off the No. 1 ranked player Joaquinn Niemann of Chile in the U.S. Amateur. Perhaps most famously, Thornberry finished tied for fourth, two shots out of the lead, in the PGA Tour’s Fed Ex St. Jude Classic and turned down more than $240,000 to retain his amateur status.

Obviously, Thornberry could turn pro and make a fortune playing golf at the level he has played over the past 12 months. Instead, he will remain and play his junior year at Ole Miss where he still believes he can better prepare himself for the rigors of the PGA Tour.

For the sake of comparisons: Jordan Spieth, who has won more than $25 million and three major titles in four seasons on the PGA Tour, left the University of Texas after one season. Spieth won three tournaments and had a stroke average of 70.91 per round. This past season, Thornberry won five tournaments and had a per round average of 69.57, nearly 1.5 shots (per round!) better than Spieth’s season at Texas. That’s six shots per 72-hole tournament, and that’s a lot.

• Tori Bowie of Sand Hill, Sam Kendricks of Oxford, Brittney Reese of Gulfport all won gold medals in the recent World Track and Field Championships at London.

Bowie, the 26-year-old former Southern Miss sprinter and long jumper, won two. She won the 100-meter dash championship and a few days later anchored the U.S. 4 x 100 gold medal winning team. Bowie leaned at the finish line to win the individual title by .01 seconds.

“I had no idea,” Bowie told reporters afterward. “All I knew was I wanted to give it everything I’ve got. Am I really world champion?”

Yes, she is. And so are Kendricks and Reese, both former Ole Miss Rebels. Kendricks was the only man to clear 19 feet, 6.25 inches. Reese leaped just over 23 feet to claim her fourth world long jump title.

• What is it about August and Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier of Fulton? Last year, Dozier belted 13 of his record-setting (for second basemen) 42 home runs during 29 August games. Entering this week, Dozier had hit eight of his 25 home runs in 19 August games.

My theory: Not until August does it get anywhere near as warm in Minnesota as the weather Dozier is accustomed to in Fulton and in Hattiesburg, where he starred for Southern Miss.

The Twins have won 13 of those 19 August games and are solidly in the American League wild card race. Yes, and Dozier, 30, is in the third year of a four-year, $20 million contract.

In other words, he is about to make enough money to buy Fulton.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

Holly Springs South Reporter

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