|Tour mainstay Hal Sutton, of Shreveport, owns an impressive 14 PGA titles for his career. (Getty Images)|
At first, keeping alive the season-long geography tour seemed like an iffy proposition this week, as the PGA Tour heads to the Zurich Classic at a spot outside New Orleans.
At several places along the 2012 tour trail, the New World Order research department, located by the bathroom in the back of the building, has unearthed a surprising trove of top-tier notables from the various locales along the way.
From the talent emanating from Arizona's major college programs to the staggering array of Hall of Famers from San Diego, it's been an illuminating undertaking. But even a half-dozen hurricanes on Bourbon Street couldn't have convince us that the state of Louisiana could produce a list of native golfers that was in any way comparable to the other lists we've produced this year.
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To wreck the local parlance: There was neaux way.
From the get-go, compiling a list of Louisiana's best golfers seemed destined to include a bunch of Who-Dats. With 4.5 million residents, and probably thrice as many gators, it might be nicknamed the Sportsman's Paradise, but the southern half of the state is a big water hazard, so a paradise for golf it's not.
Undeterred, we looked at the ingredients of the state's incredible golfing jambalaya, and fairly famous names started tumbling forth like drunks leaving Pat O'Brien's on Bourbon Street. In fact, the state has provided a stream of influential players going back to before World War II, despite boasting just 1.45 percent of the U.S. population.
While the Louisiana list isn't quite as star-filled as the player pipeline emanating from Southern California, for instance, if you have a grasp for the history and nuances of the game, you will be favorably impressed.
By the way, as an extra splash of Tabasco, gratis, the reigning NCAA Division I champion, John Peterson, attended LSU.
1. Tommy Bolt
Born: Haworth, Okla.
PGA Tour wins: 14
Way before big-league pitcher and native son Ron Guidry was nicknamed Louisiana Lightning, there was Tommy "Thunder" Bolt, who flashed across the game's horizon like a midsummer electrical storm. Bolt is forever famous for his temper, which sadly overshadowed his 14-victory career, which included the 1958 U.S. Open. Bolt was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Shreveport and dropped out of Byrd High School as a sophomore to play golf for a living. He was hardly an overnight success, living from paycheck to paycheck and occasionally hawking his clubs for extra cash -- unlike the pampered pros of today, he once pointed out. "They don't have any pressure on them," scoffed Bolt, a tremendously entertaining interview in his later years. "I had to produce. If I didn't, I wouldn't eat." The colorful Bolt was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002 and died six years later. He once wrote a self-deprecating book called How to Keep Your Temper on the Golf Course. I have an autographed copy. Didn't help me from getting a red rear end, either.
2. David Toms
PGA Tour wins: 13
After a couple of lean years, Toms jumped back into national prominence last year when he nearly won the prestigious Players Championship, then won the following week on the PGA Tour for his first victory in five years. In the TV era, no player is more closely linked with Louisiana than Toms, who attended LSU and lives in Shreveport, where he's active in local charities and once helped raise $2 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina. As solid as they come, both as a player and a citizen, Toms played on his fourth Presidents Cup team last fall at age 44. Like Bolt, his résumé includes a major championship, at the 2001 PGA Championship.
3. Hal Sutton
PGA Tour wins: 14
You'd have to think long and hard to conjure up the name of another guy who outdueled Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to win two of the biggest events in professional golf, but the former Ryder Cup captain did exactly that at various stages on his lengthy career. Starting out as a flat-bellied former college star who was anointed as the next big thing, he beat Nicklaus by a stroke to win the 1983 PGA Championship. In 2000, playing in the final group, he outdueled Woods to win the Players Championship, where his closeup exhortation to his ball on a key approach shot, "Be the right club. Be the right club –- today," has become part of tournament lore. Sutton played on four Ryder Cup teams and captained the 2004, where he rather disastrously paired Woods and Phil Mickelson, twice. Though he had a lengthy victory drought in the middle of his career, Sutton managed to win 14 times in the modern era, an achievement that grows more notable with every passing year.
4. Jay Hebert
Born: St. Martinville
PGA Tour wins: 7
When you say the name Junius Joseph Hebert, he just sounds like a Louisiana native, doesn't he? Like the three players cited ahead of him on this list, Hebert won a major championship, which means guys born in comparatively tiny Louisiana have won more majors than players hailing from Florida, amazingly. Hebert, whose brother Lionel, was also a strong player of the same era, knocked off none other than Arnold Palmer to won the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club. Was it an upset? Palmer had already won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960 and was looking for the American major trifecta when Hebert birdied two of the last four holes to win by a shot, blowing past Sam Snead in the process. Hebert was a war hero, too, having earned the Purple Heart while serving in the Marines at Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in the annals of U.S. military history.
5. Lionel Hebert
PGA Tour wins: 5
Like older brother Jay, Lionel was an ethnic Cajun, a term now tossed around too often to describe all of the state's residents. He used to follow his brother to the local muni track in Lafayette, and he eventually followed him onto the pro circuit, too. Lionel will forever hold a distinction – he was the last man to win the PGA Championship, in 1957, before it was converted from match play to stroke play, beating Dow Finsterwald in the final. He was named rookie of the year at age 29. When brother Jay won the PGA three years later, they became the first siblings to win major championships in the U.S. since Scottish professionals Willie Smith and Alex Smith both won the U.S. Open a half-century earlier. Hebert was credited as being one of a handful of players who kick-started the Champions Tour.
6. Miller Barber
PGA Tour wins: 11
Barber's victory totals over a three-decade career landed him on a Hall of Fame ballot, though he hasn't quite scaled the ivy-covered wall just yet. While his PGA Tour career was solid and lucrative, the guy nicknamed Mister X was a real killer after turning 50, and his 24 official Champions Tour wins rank third behind Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin on the all-time victory list. Barber won at least one event for nine straight years on the senior circuit. In his younger years, one of his biggest wins came at the now-defunct World Open at Pinehurst, a 144-hole trek staged in 1973 with a record purse of $500,000.
7. Fred Haas Jr.
Born: Portland, Ark.
PGA Tour wins: 5
A product of the Depression, Haas attended LSU and was roundly credited with putting the program on the map, thanks to the impression he made on a senator, and former governor, named Huey Long. Years later, the school even built a golf course on grazing area that Haas had pointed out to Long as a great potential site. "Son," Long is said to have originally replied, "LSU is an agricultural and mechanical school. If I moved those cows, the farmers would be very upset." Haas won the Southern Amateur in 1934 and played an exhibition against none other than Bobby Jones, who was so impressed, he invited the kid to play in the first iteration of an invitational tournament he had just started at a club called Augusta National. After winning an estimated 125 amateur events, Haas turned pro at age 35 and won the 1945 Memphis Open, snapping the heroic streak off 11 victories in succession by iconic Byron Nelson, which some consider the greatest run in golf history.
8. Heath Slocum
Born: Baton Rouge
PGA Tour wins: 4
Slocum grew up in the Florida Panhandle area -- attending the same high school as Ryder Cuppers Bubba Watson and Boo Weekly -- but was born in Baton Rouge. One of the classiest player on tour, Slocum has kept his card and kept on winning despite being one of the shortest hitters in the game. In his most memorable victory, he won the 2009 FedEx Cup series opener at The Barclays after finishing No. 124 in points -- two pots removed from failing to qualify. With a stirring birdie on the 72nd hole, he pulled off a shocking upset over many of the game's biggest stars of the moment -- beating multiple major winners Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els by a stroke. In 2001, he won three times on the Nationwide Tour to become the second player ever to earn an automatic "battlefield promotion" to the big leagues that same season. In an era of unsurpassed depth, he only once has finished outside the top 100 in earnings in his 10 full seasons since.