‘He never misses a shot’: Uly Grisette has had storied career on the links
Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2018
By Brian Pitts
Davie Enterprise Record
The Davie boys golf team winning championships was going to be an every-year thing before Ulysses “Uly” Grisette III moved from Winston-Salem to Bermuda Run in 1973. Now, with a special, special talent in second grade, Davie County had an embarrassing amount of riches.
“Golf was in our backyard,” Grisette said. “We’d go play golf and swim and play tennis, basketball and football. But we grew up playing golf. I was fortunate; I was good right away. There was about six of us that played growing up, and I could hit it 40, 50 yards by then when we were kids. So I knew I had the skill. I definitely had ability at an early age.”
Grisette (Class of 1984), Kathy Grimes Januzelli (1964), Sean Stevens (2002), Doug Illing (Davie’s all-time winningest football coach) and the 1956 Mocksville High baseball team (state 1-A runner-up) will be inducted in the Davie High Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 14. The 18th HOF class will be honored before and at halftime of the football game.
“It’s really quite an honor, and I mean that in all sincerity,” Grisette said. “I’m just tickled to death. I’ve got a lot of friends who are on that board. Being apart of that is nice.”
Davie boys golf has managed two conference championships in the last 34 years (1987 and 1997), but titles were once routine for Bob Henry’s and Mike Bernhardt’s War Eagles. From 1975-84, they never expected to ever lose, and they never did until the postseason. The 10 straight championships in the North Piedmont 3-A Conference is an unparalleled streak in Davie’s 62-year history, although Buddy Lowery’s wrestling program has come close multiple times.
“It was a really strong program,” Grisette said. “We were head and shoulders above everybody else in the conference.”
As a 1982 sophomore, Grisette joined a well-oiled juggernaut that included Jeffrey Lankford, Con Shelton, Bubba Brown, Britt Stroupe and Brian Driggars. Lankford, a charter member of the HOF in 2002 and the bell cow of Henry’s ‘82 squad, fired a 5-under 67 at Hickory Hill. Despite being a young pup, Grisette managed to distinguish himself, shooting a 1-under 71 at Pinewood Country Club.
With all seven NPC teams on hand on May 3 at Lexington Country Club, Davie did something that defined its gold mine of talent. Driggars (74) and Shelton (76) put up strong numbers that did not count in Davie’s score. Grisette had an even-par 72, and that was only good for fourth place for the War Eagles, who got a 3-under 69 from Brown, a 70 from Stroupe and a 71 from Lankford. Davie shot 6-under 282 and buried runner-up Asheboro by 31 strokes.
“We were six deep,” Grisette said. “I remember thinking: ‘The depth is incredible.’”
In the final NPC individual standings, Davie swept the top four places and occupied six of the top eight spots. Lankford earned player of the year. Grisette (runner-up), Brown (third), Driggars (fourth), Stroupe (sixth) and Shelton (eighth) made the All-NPC team.
After crushing Asheboro, Lexington, North Davidson, Salisbury, Thomasville and Trinity in NPC play, the War Eagles snatched the sectional trophy in a 16-team event at Lexington CC. Lankford (2-under 70) and Grisette (71) broke par, while Driggars (74), Shelton (77) and Brown (77) helped Davie defeat runner-up Asheboro by nine shots.
In the two-day state meet, 20 teams gathered at Finley Golf Course in Chapel Hill. The War Eagles went toe-to-toe with Terry Sanford, ending the first day a stroke out of first place. Grisette was the day-one leader at 71. Davie (614) settled for fourth in the state behind Terry Sanford (609), Pinecrest (611) and Williams (611). Davie’s scores came from Lankford (76-73 — 149), Grisette (71-80 — 151), Shelton (78-79 — 157) and Driggars (74-83 — 157).
Henry stepped down after guiding Davie for 15 years. Seven straight second-place finishes (1968-74) were followed by eight consecutive NPC crowns (1975-82). When Bernhardt took over in 1983, Davie’s death grip on the conference continued.
In 1983, Brown posted a red number at Lexington CC (1-under 71), Grisette earned all-conference honors for the second time and Davie cruised to another sectional title at Piney Point Golf Club in Norwood, where Kip Sales and Brown shot 75s and Grisette and Driggars carded 76s.
In the state meet in Chapel Hill, the War Eagles nearly pulled a miraculous rally. After day one, they were 22 shots back. With Brown, Grisette and Sales shooting 74s on day two, Davie fell one stroke short of the state championship. Lee County triumphed at 624. Davie, Reidsville, Jacksonville and South Mecklenburg finished in a four-way tie for second at 625. Davie’s scorers were Brown (76-74 — 150), Grisette (78-74 — 152), Sales (86-74 — 160) and Driggars (83-80 — 163).
“We made a nice comeback,” Grisette said of Davie, which entered day two in 11th place. “We had to wait around on the last hole. We played great. It was bittersweet. It would have been great to win it. I remember (the late Bob Benson, a 2015 Davie HOF inductee) told us before we left: ‘When y’all come back, I’ll put state champs on the sign out front (of Twin Cedars).’ We didn’t quite get there.”
The Davie dynasty kept chugging along in 1984. Grisette churned out 1-under 70 at Twin Cedars, a 71 and another 70 on the way to NPC Player of the Year. Brown, who whipped out a 5-under 67 in one match, finished right behind Grisette in the NPC standings and Sales was third. John Matthews and Keith Stiller also made all-conference.
Davie ruled the sectional again as Brown shot 74, followed by 76s from Grisette and Matthews and Sales’ 81.
After narrowly missing state titles in ‘82 and ‘83, Davie did not threaten in ‘84, finishing 12th. Grisette, though, traded mighty blows with the best players around, shooting a 1-under 71 on day one to trail leader Mitchell Perry of Pine Forest by one shot.
Grisette was also a basketball enthusiast. After playing JV as a sophomore, he spent two years on coach Paul Drechsler’s varsity. He started at point guard as a senior.
“I was really a better two guard,” he said. “We didn’t have anybody else who could dribble, and I was a pretty good dribbler. I would have been really good if we’d had the 3-point line when I played, but that came in about two years after I left. I loved basketball. But about my sophomore year, I realized that was not going to be my college path.”
He relived the 1984 memory of scoring eight points in one possession.
“We were playing North Davidson,” he said. “They were really good and we were mediocre (8-13, 5-9 NPC). I got fouled on a (successful) layup. (North coach Pete Jones) got tossed for getting three techs. I made the six technical foul shots. I have to be the only person that’s ever had an eight-point play in high school basketball.”
Although Grisette cherished his time on the hardwood, it was his golf swing that gave him stature. He received scholarship offers from N.C. State, UNC-Charlotte, Virginia Tech and “a bunch of small schools,” he said. His dream school, though, was North Carolina.
“I my heart, I wanted to go to Carolina,” he said. “The coach (Devon Brouse) told me I could come and be on the team. He didn’t offer me any scholarship money. Both my sisters and dad went there. But I knew (Brouse) was not going to offer me a scholarship, so I started weaning myself off that Carolina blue about midway through my senior year.”
Grisette wound up accepting an offer from one of Carolina’s fiercest rivals, N.C. State, where Lankford was a rising junior and coming off an All-ACC season.
“Richard Sykes (who retired in 2017 after coaching State for 46 years) recruited heavily in-state,” Grisette said. “Kelley Phillips grew up in Bermuda Run and played at Forsyth Country Day. Jeffrey and Kelley went to school at State, so I had two really good friends that went there. I saw Jeffrey was having success.”
Now Grisette was about to establish one of the longest golf resumés in Davie County annals. He wasted no time breaking into State’s lineup as a freshman, and he never looked back.
“It was a really good pick for me because I got in the lineup my freshman year,” he said. “I think I missed the first match the fall of my freshman year, but I started all four years (from that point on). Not too many people get to do that at any school. I was fortunate. I was able to grow my game.”
In 1986, Bermuda Run hosted the NCAA Tournament. Grisette wanted desperately to play in the Big Dance in his backyard, but State was snubbed. Wake Forest rallied to win the NCAA title that year.
“Back then, if you can believe this, there were three coaches that were on the selection committee — so it was real political who got in,” he said. “The coaches at Carolina, Clemson and Furman were on the committee. The coach at Furman picked them over us, and I think we had a 7-4 record against them throughout the year. And you knew the Carolina coach wasn’t going to vote for us. It was hard being at home and not getting to play on my home course.”
As a junior in 1986-87, Grisette, with a stroke average of 74, qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an individual. “My junior year I played good every week,” he said. “I think I finished in the top 10 every time.”
Grisette’s senior average was 74.5 and the 1987-88 Wolfpack soared to No. 11 in the nation, easily qualifying for the NCAA Tournament as a team.
“I got to play in the NCAA Tournament my junior and senior years, which was an honor,” he said. “That’s the benchmark. Whether it’s basketball or baseball or wrestling or golf, you want to play in that NCAA Championship.”
Grisette was a two-time NCAA Academic All-American (1987, 1988), and after his freshman season at State came one of his proudest accomplishments — winning the 1985 North Carolina Amateur championship. The venue — Mimosa Hills Golf Club in Morganton — made it especially sweet.
“That was a great win,” he said. “My dad grew up on that course. I had a nice comeback and won in a playoff. To play and win on a course where my dad and grandfather were members was really a neat thing. My grandfather was so proud. I was 18 years old and I felt like I belonged.”
His crowning moment came in the summer of 1988. One year after losing to Billy Andrade in the semifinals, he won the prestigious North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. Past champions include Jack Nicklaus (1959), Curtis Strange (1975-76), Corey Pavin (1981), Davis Love III (1984) and Jack Nicklaus II (1985).
“It’s a 110-year-old event,” he said. “I only played in it two years. It came down to the last hole. It was very close and very nerve-wracking. I can remember a lot of the shots during the day. Now Pinehurst is a famous place. I have friends who will take a picture of it and say: ‘Uly, I was at Pinehurst today.’ It’s nice to be on that wall down there.”
Two years later, Grisette took the next step and turned pro. He was a member of the European PGA Tour and the Nike Tour (“Now it’s the Web.com Tour,” he said) between 1990-96.
“I really contemplated whether I was going to turn pro, but I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said. “You realize real quick there’s good players all over the world. People you’ve never heard of can beat you every day. It was a great experience. I chased it pretty hard for six years.”
Grisette played in five PGA Tour events, his best finish being a tie for 15th in the Chattanooga Classic. His finest round as a pro was 9-under 63 in Branson, Mo. He regained his amateur status in 2008.
“I was playing pro golf and getting fairly close to making (the PGA Tour),” he said. “I broke my wrist and sat out a year. I kind of lost my confidence and game. My wife looked at me and said: ‘What’s next?’ So I quit playing golf and got my amateur status back. I waited around a few years and started playing competitive golf again as an amateur.”
Uly and wife Tonya, a teacher at Southwest Elementary in Clemmons, live in Winston-Salem. They have two children. Their 21-year-old son, Ulysses IV, is headed to The Citadel this fall. Daughter Athena, 18, is set to attend college at East Carolina.
His current handicap is “better than scratch,” he said. “I think it’s plus-2 or 3. I play at least once a week. I travel quite a bit, but if I’m home I’ll go hit balls and go play one day on the weekend.”
Over the last decade, Grisette has been tearing up amateur competition, winning North Carolina Mid-Amateur titles in 2008 and 2010.
“I got to enjoy playing with buddies that I hadn’t seen in 20 years,” he said. “That’s the thing about golf: You can compete as long as you can get in a cart and ride.”
His storied career includes three wins in the Forsyth Invitational. He won it in his first try in August 2008, and did it in magical fashion. He shot a blistering 7-under 63 on Sunday at Tanglewood Park’s Championship Course to wipe out defending champion Richard Giles’ eight-shot lead. Grisette prevailed on the third playoff hole.
“I get as nervous playing in that event just because everybody expects you to win,” he said. “That’s hard to do. Playing in local tournaments, I get as much joy out of that now because that’s all I have time to do.”
Grisette repeated as champ in 2009. He joined the short list of three-time Forsyth winners in 2017. On that Sunday at Maple Chase, he turned in a 3-under 69 to deny 17-year-old Brandon Einstein by one stroke. Yep, Uly had/has skills that few Davie County golfers have ever been able to match.
“Uly is just phenomenal,” Einstein told the Winston-Salem Journal. “He never misses a shot.”