Originally created 05/17/98

Keck at best when odds against him



DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C. -- Mike Keck once told his 10-year-old son Jeff that he'd never beat him on a golf course. Nope. Won't ever happen.

Mike Keck had good reason to boast -- he played college golf at Emporia (Kan.) State, and from the back tees at lengthy Gordon Lakes, he'd play to a four handicap.

One afternoon, the father made this bet with his son: If elder Keck beat younger Keck by 20 or more shots, then Jeff would have to wash and wax Mike's van. If younger Jeff survived, dad would pay him a crisp $20 bill.

Jeff, in eighth grade at the time, remembers this story like it's being whispered into his ear because it happened to be the narrative hook in his golfing life.

Jeff shot 89 that day at Fort Belzer in Northern Virginia, his first sub-90 round. He's still waiting for pops to pay up.

"I don't remember that," Mike said laughing.

Know this about Jeff Keck, a junior golfer playing for hometown Augusta State: If he sets his mind to it, he usually accomplishes his task.

Whether it's besting dad with odds stacked against you, or whether it's your final two holes Saturday afternoon at the East Regionals, your Jaguar teammates slumping and a strong finish needed from this self-made golfer, Keck puts his head down and chugs away.

At age 14, after winning a D-flight tournament at Gordon Lakes, he decreed himself ready for the Evans golf team, a nonsensical thought that father questioned.

"I said, `Son, do you realize this is Augusta, Georgia, and Evans is city's golfing superpower?' " said Mike Keck, who is now retired from the Army. "Then when he won three MVPs in four years, I guess he proved me wrong."

Keck's golfing style matched his way of life: intense. "He'd tee it up and rip it as a kid," said Vaughn Taylor, who grew playing with Keck at local junior events. "I'm proud of him because he realized he needed to improve his touch and he did just that."

These anecdotes of mind over matter are appropriate for describing Keck's finish Saturday, a gutsy conclusion that essentially sealed the Jaguars' trip to Albuquerque, N.M., for the NCAA golf championships in two weekends.

Keck's Saturday morning did nothing to improve the 22-year-old's already receding hairline. Facing a three-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th, he pushed it right. A three-foot birdie try on par-4 15th also slid by, and stomachs turned in the Keck camp.

"I think I was trying too hard to make birdies," said Jeff, who sat out last season with a hand injury. "I realized I was at 4-over and I was hurting our team. I had to regroup. I had to help out."

At the 187-yard par-3 16th, Keck's iron landed in the backside bunker, more agony for Mike as he knelt along the green's knolls.

Keck wiggled his way in the sand, then wedged out four feet past. The ensuing putt left no doubt, no lips to kiss.

So he saved a stroke, but little did he know that he saved his round.

At 17, Keck striped his iron approach to 15 feet and rolled in his long-awaited birdie. At 18, with waves crashing along side the walled-off fairway and windjammers humming through the Atlantic, Keck played for position and caressed another birdie in.

"Birdie-birdie finish," Mike Keck exhaled of his son's 74. "That's what guts is all about."

Bordering on the cut bubble, ASU made it by three strokes.

Oh, what about dad's premonition that son would never go lower than his old man?

"It's not even close," Jeff laughed. "Even mom beats dad now."