By Jeff Shearer
OPELIKA, Ala - Gary Christian is easy to spot at the Barbasol Championship. He's the guy wearing the headset and carrying the microphone.
Christian, a former Auburn golfer, is the Golf Channel's roving, on-course correspondent, lending his perspective and distinctive British accent to the proceedings.
"Anything that sounds different keep the people's attention, which is nice." Christian said.
After 15 seasons playing professional golf, he's making the transition to broadcasting.
"I'd love to be able to play again, but I'm 44, three knee surgeries, playing against people 20 years younger than me, who can hit it 50 yards by me. It's not an easy one to do," Christian said.
With his Mass Communication degree from Auburn, broadcasting was always Christian's preferred career path after his playing days concluded.
"I was hoping to do it in my mid-50's, after the Senior Tour, but this has worked out really well," Christian said. "I've always enjoyed talking and communicating with people. It was a degree that was tailor-made for me."
A meeting last year with the producer from the Sky network in Britain led to a gig as an analyst. Visibility from that assignment led to work with the PGA Tour, and most recently, the Golf Channel.
"When you're playing injured, at 70 percent, you've got no chance of winning," he said. "I've only ever played to win. I knew that if my game wasn't good enough to win, then it would be easy for me to move on to the next stage.
"I really don't miss it, to be honest. I miss having the ability to play at full-strength, and I'm hoping to be able to have that opportunity again, but being a realist, this (broadcasting) is something that's probably the next 20 years of my life."
In Friday's second round, Christian accompanied fellow former Auburn Tiger Blayne Barber's group.
"It's nice to have this local interest of the boys doing well," said Christian, referring to Barber and 2016 Auburn teammates Michael Johnson and Matt Gilchrest.
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) July 16, 2016
Christian transferred to Auburn in 1993 after two seasons of junior college golf.
His first season, 1994, Auburn finished seventh in the NCAA Championships, the highest team finish in program history.
"That's the best that Auburn's ever done, so I'm proud to be on that team," he said. "We had really good team spirit. I don't think there were any blue-chip junior golfers in that group, but we worked hard, we had fun. We had each other's backs. Like my golf career, we got the most out of what we had."
In Christian's senior year, 1995, Auburn teammate Chip Spratlin won the NCAA individual championship, besting a field that included Stanford freshman Tiger Woods.
In 2012, his rookie year on the PGA Tour, Christian experienced his career highlight. In the FedEx Cup playoffs, he was paired with Woods on Saturday in one of the final groups.
"Playing with Tiger, that's a no-brainer," Christian said. "To play with, arguably, the best player who's ever played the game, on even footing, trying to win the biggest tournament I'd ever played in, was incredibly special.
"It was nice to, with limited talent, just to see how good I could get. To make the PGA Tour, to win on the Web.com Tour, and then to try to win a tournament against Tiger Woods, that checked all of the boxes for me."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) July 16, 2016
Christian says his experience as an overachiever, who dedicated himself to the mental aspects of golf, informs his role as a broadcaster.
"I got the very most out of what I had," he said. "It shows a lot of people what is possible, when you don't have incredible mechanics, or incredible speed in your swing. You just need to have enough, and then a very strong mind to get the most out of it.
"It allows me to be able to explain how hard a shot Is, because it never came easy to me. Those players who were so naturally talented, what may be so easy for them, may not be quite so easy for the rest of the field."
Christian is proud to be part of Auburn's expanding legacy of golfers making their mark in the professional ranks.
"Nick Clinard has done a tremendous job of growing the program," Christian said. "Mike Griffin laid the foundation, and now with the Auburn University Club, the facilities, there's no excuse to not improve as a player.
"With the success that the team has had, now you're starting to be thought of in those same sort of levels as the Georgia's, the Georgia Tech's of the world, where you're producing PGA Tour-quality players, and that is a great recruiting tool," he said.
"It's just a beautiful place to come to school," Christian said. "There are so many ups to Auburn, and Auburn University and this area, I'm proud to be associated with it, but more proud to see how that legacy is growing. I would imagine it's going to go from strength to strength. Nick's a great recruiter.
"If you're an up-and-coming college player, and you can go on the practice area, and Jason Dufner is chipping, and Will Claxton's chipping, and Blayne's putting, you can ask them questions, and that's how you get better. You learn, not necessarily from drawing lines on a screen, but talking to players who have achieved something."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) July 15, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer