Thomas J. “Tommy” Owen, Goddard High School class of 1974, couldn’t have imagined that by playing with great high school golfers in Arnold Madril and Nancy Lopez and helping Goddard win state golfing titles in 1973-74, he would one day play at the most prestigious golf course in the world: Augusta National Country Club in Augusta, Georgia, host of the Masters Tournament.
Madril would hit the ball right-handed and putt left-handed and Lopez would have to ask the state for a waiver to be on the boys’ team. This was before girls had a golf team.
Dreams come true!
Growing up in Roswell, Thomas Owen’s father, Robert J. “Bob” Owen, was in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Robert Owen was the city manager in Roswell, and they lived on West Seventh Street. Thomas Owen remembers going outside and watching the airplanes fly over at the airport, so he decided to go into the Air Force.
Thomas Owen had been president of the GHS student body his senior year. He played two years of basketball and four years of golf. In high school, he took every math and science class he could. His involvement in student government helped prepare him for college, along with science teacher Dorothy Eachus who Thomas credits for taking an interest in him.
Support Local Journalism
Subscribe to the Roswell Daily Record today.
Support Local Journalism
“She was a fantastic teacher,” Thomas Owen said. “She saw how to relate to each of her students and help us through each of our challenges. She invited me and several others to the state science symposium. Her (Eachus) demonstrating that kind of confidence in me went a long way.”
He was fourth or fifth in his class and still didn’t know if he would get the nomination to the Air Force Academy from former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici. He received it and then the appointment to USAFA. After graduation, each year Thomas Owen would send the senator a letter thanking him and giving him an update on his career.
After graduating high school in 1974, Thomas Owen was selected to attend the Air Force Academy. He was good enough to be asked to play on the golf team, but the rigors and time constraints of academic life made it almost impossible for him to play golf.
“Coach, no kidding, I will come out for the team if I get my academic act together,” Thomas Owen said. “Really, I’m working too hard to make sure I can finish the course of studies.”
Not being able to play at the Academy did not deter Thomas Owen away from his love of golf. During his golf career, he played a lot of courses, before and after retiring from the Air Force.
Arriving at the Masters
The Masters Tournament begins this week. It is normally played the first full week of April, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was moved to Nov. 9-15.
Thomas Owen was able to attend the tournament in 2007 when a friend of his wife’s was sick, so he bought their tickets. He was in awe driving up to the Augusta Country Club when he saw the magnolias, the clubhouse and the way everything was manicured.
One of the best pieces of advice he received was from a friend who told him to not worry about the other golfers playing in the tournament. He had seen it on TV 30-40 times. His friend told him: Go to the driving range and picture in your mind hitting a few balls; then go over to the putting green. Next, go over to the first tee and mentally hit your first drive. Walk outside of the ropes and play all holes in your mind. Don’t worry about the professional golfers there.
After completing that inspiring round of “mental” golf, he was able to settle in and watch the pros play the tournament.
The following year, in 2008, due to different circumstances, he was able to go to watch the Masters at Augusta again. A couple weeks after the Masters Golf Tournament, Thomas Owen was able to play the course because his son, Thomas J. Owen II, was a full-time chef in the kitchen at Augusta National.
The club is so nice to their employees that each full-time employee gets to bring their favorite golf partner and play the actual course on employee Appreciation Day. The fishing ponds and the Masters Par 3 course as well as the tournament course was open all day for the employees and their golf partner.
Also, because his son worked at Augusta National, Thomas Owen was able to get a tour of the clubhouse and the locker room where the pros change clothes. He remembers seeing both Ben Hogan’s and Tiger Woods’ lockers. Inside the locker room, every champion has their own locker.
“I have been to more expensive and bigger locker rooms,” Thomas Owen said. “Everything at Augusta National is done so tastefully. It’s not ostentatious, it is very well done.”
Thomas Owen feels playing the Masters course was a fair course to play. In some of the courses he has played, the course was designed to trick the golfer. He thought the fairways were fair and thinks the reason some golfers do well there year after year, is they have figured the course out.
“You better hit your approach shot to each green to the right spot on the green,” Thomas Owen said. “You need to be able to putt to the hole without too much break. The greens are very fast with lots of break. If you don’t hit it to the right place on the green, you could end up with a four-putt as a regular occurrence. Those greens are treacherous with the speed and the break in every putt. If you are going downhill on your putts, you’re not going to do well.”
When playing the course, Thomas Owen advises golfers to not go out there and swing as hard as they can on every tee. He tried to hit the ball to a preplanned target in each fairway. By doing that and playing patiently, golfers give themselves a chance to make pars and not get in trouble on the course.
When playing Augusta, he thought about the layout of the hole and tried to hit the ball to the left side a certain number of yards down or hit it to the right side and try to think ahead to what it would take to be in the right position to finish the hole.
When he played that three-hole series on the back nine, Thomas Owen finished even par: birdie, par and bogey. He still recalls it as one of the highlights of his golfing life. The grass on the fairways throughout Augusta National is perfect. The rough is trimmed perfectly. He said if you keep the ball in play, you won’t have the excuse that you got a bad lie.
Thomas Owen retired as a lieutenant general from the Air Force after 34 years of active duty in 2012. He has two master’s degrees in international relations and in national security strategy. He runs his own business, A ZiaStar Consulting, as an aerospace and organizational consultant. He helps people who develop and manage fleets of airplanes.
Thomas Owen says he’s had a successful military career that has allowed him to travel the world; he’s been to over 40 countries in his Air Force and civilian career. For Thomas Owen, it all started in Roswell at Goddard High School. He believes that you have to follow your heart and not listen to people who tell you what you can’t accomplish. He says don’t listen to the negative people in life. Be the most valuable member of the team to which you are assigned.
“Set your goals,” Thomas Owen said. “Make sure you are doing the things that will lead you to accomplish your goals. That’s whether someone says, your goals are achievable or not.”
For Thomas Owen, it all started with a dream and the work he put in the classroom and the leadership positions he held at Goddard. One tee shot has taken him from Spring River to Augusta National Country Club.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.