Celebrity has a way of dehumanizing people, which is part of the reason I have always thought it would be cool to know someone before they became famous. The old “Yeah, I remember when that guy was a regular schmoe just like me.” (I’ve also thought it would be cool to see a band in some random bar before they made it big, like my aunt who worked at the bar in Austin where Stevie Ray Vaughn was the house act, but that is more for the reason of bragging rights).
This year, I’ve finally seen two such people rise into national prominence. First was Willie Veasley, who I covered as a big-time high school star in the small town where my post-collegiate career started. He was made a national figure as the only senior starter on the Butler basketball team that came within a hair of the most stunning national championship of all-time.
My connection with Jeff Overton goes back even further. The first beat I earned working for the Indiana Daily Student was men’s golf. Newbies had to prove their mettle on non-revenue sports — and I sure as hell wasn’t going to watch dudes wrestle — plus my background as a caddy in high school made it the only logical choice. Still, IU golf was coming off one of its worst seasons ever, so I wasn’t expected to get a whole lot to work with.
Luckily for me, the team had a bumper crop of good freshmen come in, and none stood out brighter than Jeff Overton. During that fall and especially in the spring season, it was readily apparent that he was a special talent. And not a totally insufferable douche, like many hotshot young golfers tend to be.
The last time I saw Jeff in person was the year after I graduated, which was his senior year, as I made a special appearance in Bloomington for 15-cent beer night at The Bluebird. Several 15 cent beers into the night we passed each other through the doorway as I headed down to check out the band on stage (no one who became famous, mind you). Fueled by my exuberance, I was pretty excited to see him again.
“JEFF OVERTON!” I proclaimed, probably getting the attention of nearby strangers. “The next big thing on the PGA Tour!”
He smiled — I specifically remember his look being a mix of shock and happiness that just came across as really goofy-looking — and we then exchanged what was most likely an awkward fist-bump and wandered our separate directions.
It took the rest of the world some time to learn what me and all the other IU nerds on this site have known for years. Overton is really, really good. And really fun to watch. He finished with a 2-2 record in his first-ever Ryder Cup appearance — and hit the best shot of the tourney in one match he did lose — which gives him a decent shot at consideration for a captain’s pick in a couple years if he somehow doesn’t make it in the rankings. At this moment I feel comfortable saying he is the best athlete I have yet covered in my career, and I just hope someday I can raise my career to the same level he has with his.
For now, it’s just a whole lot of fun hearing the Johnny Millers and Scott Van Pelts of the world heaping praise on someone you’ve known since he was an 18-year-old kid. Maybe this is what people feel like when they have kids or something. Just a hell of a lot easier.