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Survivor Thailand's Clay finds comfort zone in golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

TARUTAO ISLAND, Thailand - Clay Jordan isn't dressed in PGA Tour player silk slacks, Cutter & Buck logo shirt and all-leather Foot Joys. In fact this might be one of the scruffiest golfers who ever played in front of a national television audience.

He's gripping his Ping wedge with a brand-new Winn grip and his bare feet dig into the sandy beach. He hasn't shaved in weeks and his bare chest is getting toasty brown in the steamy Thailand sun. Sweat is ever-present in the suffocating heat and his swim trunks are ripe, in need of several washing machine loads of Tide detergent with bleach.

Welcome to the Survivor Thailand Open. Jordan's Titleist Pro V1 shot from 50 yards draws a bead on a half-coconut shell planted down in the sand and lands five feet away, sticking solidly in the ground like an approach shot in Louisiana after five straight days of rain.

There is no roar from the Chuay Gahn gallery, but the golf shots that escaped the cutting-room floor and did air on Survivor Thailand, CBS' highly watched reality television show, might have been the most viewed from a remote location since Alan B. Shepard Jr., launched a 6-iron shot from the moon on February 6, 1971.

What's golf doing on a reality TV show? Each of the 16 contestants were allowed to bring a luxury item. Jordan chose a golf club and three golf balls.

"Actually CBS gave you five choices," said Jordan, the 46-year-old owner of Jordan's Restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana. "They suggest something that would give you inspiration or remind you of home. I thought golf would be a great way to relieve the stress and tension, have some fun and maybe even use the club as a weapon."

Many have asked Jordan why he didn't use the wedge to crack open that food-stealing monkey that dashed into their kitchen as soon as the Survivors left camp.

"As a former prison site, the area was a national park, so even though we stayed really hungry all the time, we weren't allowed to kill animals on land," Jordan said. "I did use the club to irritate some snakes, though. Man, there were a lot of snakes everywhere."

Golf certainly must have been an inspiration, because Jordan did last all 39 days in the competition, where one contestant was eliminated every three days and 35,000 auditioned for the chance to play. Jordan finished second to Brian Heidik, a 34-year-old used-car salesman from Quartz Hill, Calif.. But it was very close. Heidik survived a 4-3 vote from outsted tribesmen, who formed the voting jury. A live TV audience and 24 million viewers nationwide saw the show finale in December.

Heidik took home $1 million and Jordan came away with $100,000 as the runner-up on the show where 16 tribe members must outplay, outwit and outlast the others all without the comforts of home. The contestants slept on the sand, ate coconut and the occasional sea creature, and had to venture hefty distances to get drinking water.

Once the daily chores were done and the contestants were not involved in "award challenges" or "immunity challenges," Jordan and tribe members were allowed to play golf on a sandy beach on the island off southern Thailand in the Andaman Sea.

"Two members of my Chuay Gahn tribe had played some golf before - Brian and Jan Gentry," Jordan said. "We played quite a bit in the beginning, but toward the end probably just every other day. We buried five half-coconut shells and layed out holes of 25 to 50 yards. You can imagine we didn't have all that much room on the beach.

"One rule was strictly enforced. If you hit a ball in the water you had to immediately go grab it," he said. "Another special rule, since you couldn't really putt on the sand was what we called 'the famous lift shot.' Once you were within 10 feet of the hole you would put the wedge under the ball, lift it and try to throw it into the hole. We got pretty good at doing that."

It was such a spectacular location that Jordan did find himself dreaming about a real golf course at the tribe's home, which included a beachfront site with caves. "There were tall cliffs behind us so I did imagine a great downhill par-3 from the cliff top to the beach below," Jordan laughed. "We daydreamed a lot about food, too."

During the competition Jordan did get invited on a reward challenge trip with Brian, where the two took a helicopter trip with the reward of an elephant ride and dinner.

"On the helicopter flight we flew over several golf courses," Jordan recalled, "and it really struck me that I didn't see a lot of golf carts. Ninety percent of the golfers we saw were walking, but I could tell there were some great looking golf courses in Thailand."

The reason Jordan saw few carts? Caddies are plentiful and affordable at Thailand golf courses.

Back home in Louisiana, Jordan and his wife of 26 years, Linda, run their restaurant, where friendly service is one of the main draws.

"Folks like that we serve breakfast 24 hours," he said. "They also like the hamburgers, and chicken-fried steak, which is a mainstay in Texas, but not found as often in Louisiana."

That accent you heard from Clay is a distinctive West Texas one. He was born in Canyon, Texas, near Amarillo, but lived in Levelland, just minutes west of Lubbock, where he spent most of his younger days and met his future bride when she was 13 and he was 14. Jordan graduated from Levelland High in 1974.

Jordan played his first round of golf at age eight on a nifty little nine-hole South Plains course that could be one of the most unique on the Texas plains. The course, Floydada Country Club, 50 miles northwest of Lubbock, is layed out down in Blanco Canyon and plays around a flat-topped mesa. The area is surrounded by land so flat you can see for miles, but the arid dirt is fertile, and the cotton fields are watered by deep wells of the Ogallala Aquifer. It's also one of the most fruitful areas of the country to grow pumpkins for Halloween.

His start at a young age in the game was solidified. "Golf is the greatest sport of all," said Jordan, "you can play it your whole life."

He has also tried to infect his family with the golf bug. "My brother-in-law passed away several years ago and a golf tournament was organized in Houston, named The Elmer Hinson Memorial Tournament, in his honor. I told my wife we could go, but that she had to play. She never had, but she tried it and now she is a golfer.

"We are members of Frenchman's Bend Country Club here in Monroe and my children, Andrew (24) and Shanda (17), also play golf. We try to go out every Sunday as a family - we may just play five or nine holes or 18, but we have fun," Jordan said.

Jordan admits he would love to play more golf on vacations, "but I always take my golf clubs with me on our trips. Normally we set aside one day to play golf and do other things the rest of the trip. Biloxi (Mississippi) is a great place to go for a vacation and play golf and it's not that far from Monroe," he said.

And here's a note to golf merchandisers - Clay would love to be a spokesman for you or be in your commercials.

"What is that golf club that's made to replace your long irons? Is it the Taylor Made Rescue Club? Or is it the Perfect Club that's advertised all the time on The Golf Channel? I'm ready to be your spokesman," he said.

Jordan is certainly not camera-shy. He's got a grounded presence. He's a natural. He's described himself as spunky, a colorful character and a guy who will be himself.

Clay's Capsules

Handicap: 10
Best score: 68 at Levelland Country Club, Texas, at age 43
Membership: Frenchman's Bend Country Club, Monroe
What's in the bag: Ping irons and woods. Odyssey straight blade putter.
Dream foursome: "We would play at Augusta National. The other three would include Tiger Woods, because he is Tiger Woods, the best. It would include Jack Nicklaus because he was my favorite and the best while I was growing up. And it would include Greg Norman because I think he cares about people. When he took that kid that had leukemia under his wing he really sold me. I'd love to help kids in the same ways he did."

Best part of my game: "The driver. When I'm playing well I hit my drives out there about 290. Not bad for a little bitty guy who is 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds. I weighed about 170 before Survivor, lost more than 30 pounds on the island and now I've gained 18 back."

Worst part of my game: "Long irons and gamesmanship. If somebody tells me I can't make a shot then I talk myself out of a good shot. If I could replace my 2, 3 and 4 irons with something I could hit better, I would improve. Rescue club? The Perfect Club?"

Travel golf: Jordan has played Tour 18 and Southwyck Golf Club in Houston. His recommendations for anyone coming to the Monroe area are four private clubs - Frenchman's Bend in Monroe, Squire Creek Golf and Country Club in Choudrant, Calvert Crossing Country Club in West Monroe and also Pine Hills Country Club. Public courses are Chenault Golf Course and Selman Field Golf Course in Monroe.

Favorite golf scenario in a movie: "No doubt it was Tin Cup when Kevin Costner kept hitting that impossible shot, ball after ball in the water, and finally nailed one on the green. His girlfriend said to him that people would forget who won the tournament, but they would never forget that shot. That is golf. You can hit some lousy shots and then hit a great shot on No. 18 and it always brings you back."

Photo credits: Copyright: Photo: CBS © 2002 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Right Reserved.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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