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Chasing your dream, no matter how crazy it may seem, is the only way to live your life. Whether it is Tiger chasing Jack’s record, Phil chasing that elusive Grand Slam, or all these young guys chasing Tiger. All of them have a dream. And all of them are doing whatever it takes to achieve their dreams. For Jimmie James, it was no different. He had the dream of playing America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses in one year, and he did not let anything stop him.
Let’s start by telling us a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get to where you are today?
I was born into poverty in the state of Texas in a tin-roofed, wooden shack without plumbing or electricity. The first in my family, I graduated high school and attended college, graduating from Prairie View A&M University with a degree in Civil Engineering. I had a 33-year career with ExxonMobil, rising from entry-level engineer to an executive-level position with global responsibilities.
And what is your background in golf?
I began playing golf at 45 years old after relocating from Virginia back to Texas. The Vice President of my organization suggested that in order to better relate to the people who I’d be responsible for, I needed to start shooting something. He said I could choose between shooting animals or shooting par. My wife, Erika, purchased golf clubs for me the next day.
I had always wanted to play golf, but I thought it was too hard. So I took lessons. The first time I struck the ball purely and watched it soar into the sky, I was hooked.
Let’s get into your top 100 tour. What made it unique compared to other marathon golf excursions?
My tour was the first and only time anyone has ever played America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses in one year. It was made possible by the kindness and generosity of the golf community. Seventy percent of the people who hosted me were people I met or was introduced to during my quest. My tour demonstrates that golf is a more accessible game than it ever used to be.
I would also like to thank my wife, Erika, who was a key partner in my journey. She supported my vision of playing the top 100 courses in the country and helped me gain access to some of the most exclusive courses in the world, including Augusta National.
I would imagine you ran into some interesting challenges along the way?
While most of my rounds were played under beautiful blue skies, I overcame mudslides, wildfires, hurricanes, rain, snow, and course closures. On top of that, I had to coordinate my schedule and travel with several different hosts.
My goal of completing the top 100 courses in a year was almost shattered when my host for Shinnecock Hills regrettably had to cancel one week before the round due to a death in the family. This was also just before the U.S. Open, and the club had restrictions on guest play around that time. It was very difficult to find another host who still had guest privileges, but I was fortunate that Jimmy Dunne agreed to fly in and host me on the last day guests could play the course ahead of the Open.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
All the moments when strangers went out of their way to host me or introduce me to others who could host me at their clubs. Some individuals even changed vacation plans and asked their respective clubs for exceptions to guest policies to accommodate my travel schedule. Some flew across the country to meet me at their club to host me. There was nothing more rewarding than the realization that our country is still a place where people help each other achieve their dreams.
I was also fortunate to develop friendships with some of my caddies that will likely last the rest of my life. But, my most satisfying moment was when that last putt dropped into the cup. It signified the completion of my year-long quest, and it occurred on the final day of the year I had given myself to complete the journey.
Cutting it close… So, what doors have opened for you as a result of your tour?
At least a few. So far, I have had the opportunity to spend a week in Scotland at the Caddie School for Soldiers. This is a new effort to help soldiers returning from war who are readjusting to life back in their communities by becoming caddies. I am also working with individuals nationwide to increase the number of African-American PGA Professionals working at top clubs in the country.
I have been fortunate to receive invitations from golfers around the globe to play their courses, and I am working on a book to tell the story of the journey and all the amazing people I have met along the way. But most importantly, I have been given the opportunity to contribute to the game of golf.
What can we look forward to from Jimmie James?
The book on the adventure – completing the America’s top 100. And hopefully, having an opportunity to share a round of golf with each of the three most recent former presidents: President Clinton, President Bush, and President Obama.
We can’t wait! Let’s hit some rapid fire questions before we let you go. If you could play 18 holes with anyone, who would it be?
Besides each of the three former presidents? Tiger woods and Jack Nicklaus.
What item is an absolute necessity for you out on the course?
A GPS watch. It is like a security blanket for me. I always like to know where I am on the course.
What is your top bucket list course… or since you might’ve played them all, which was your favorite?
Augusta National. For the overall experience. The drive down Magnolia Lane, the warm-up round on the par three course, a pimento cheese sandwich for lunch, and playing Amen Corner.
Cyprus Point for the shot value. It gives you the choice of how to play each hole off the tee and is a beautiful course.
Pine Valley for its difficulty. It has more room than you might think off the tee, but not all of it is usable because you really need to be in the right place for your second shot.
Fishers Island because it is a Seth Raynor design on a charming island with scenic vistas.
Finally, Merion, for all of its traditions and history.