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And Ironman rested

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A Tour event begins outside Atlanta on Thursday, and Tom Auclair won’t be there. On the PGA Tour, that’s a stranger happening than Phil and Tiger catching a movie together, Tim Herron skipping a buffet line or Bernhard Langer playing fast.

Auclair, 50, runs insidetheropes.com, and he has a streak that would make fellow Rhode Island ironman Dana Quigley blush. For nine and a half years, dating to the 1998 Tournament of Champions, Auclair has been at a PGA Tour event every week in which they’ve staged one, videotaping and interviewing players, collecting their thoughts and insights as tournaments unfold.

That’s 433 consecutive tournaments for those keeping score at home. The Tour ought to dole out FedEx Cup points for that.

When the Tour moves to Duluth, Ga., Monday, Auclair is headed home to North Smithfield, R.I. The youngest of his three children, daughter Katelyn, is graduating from Providence College May 20, and he doesn’t want to miss any of the festivities leading into her graduation.

Vijay Singh, a frequent Auclair interviewee – and a man who knows a little something when it comes to being dedicated to his profession – asked the name of the baseball player who had such an incredible run of consecutive games. Told it was Cal Ripken, he said, “There you go. He (Auclair) is the Cal Ripken of media, you know? It’s a shame that he can’t do it (keep the streak going), but that’s a great run. Unbelievable.

“Everything has to come to an end sooner or later, right?”

For Auclair, who seemingly was on the Internet before Al Gore invented it, there have been interesting challenges along the way. There were two tournaments during the streak in which he didn’t even receive proper media credentials, and one led him into a 45-minute chase through the streets of Sandwich, England, to land an interview with British Open champion Ben Curtis after his victory at Royal St. George’s.

There have been the ever-present technical constraints of trying to get video uploaded and posted on his site at times when finding a high-speed line was more improbable than finding water in a desert. He and his oldest son, T.J., can remember doing their work into the wee hours of the morning in Great Britain one time sitting on chairs outside a residence where they were able to pick up a wireless signal. And Tom has spent more nights inside a 24-hour Kinko’s than anyone would ever want to spend in one lifetime.

Then there’s the travel itself. Auclair probably covers 100,000 miles a year, and they are “hard miles” with ample connections between them. Brad Faxon scratches his head when he thinks about the time Auclair flew home from Hawaii for a day, then rejoined the Tour on the West Coast. Or the time Tom brought his wife, Karin, a Mercedes in Washington, D.C., for her birthday, drove it home to Rhode Island, then got right back to work on the Tour.

“Mind-boggling,” Faxon terms it.

And of course there is the biggest challenge of all: being miles from home. Auclair left for Hawaii to start the current Tour season Dec. 27, and in four-plus months, he has been home “parts” of four days. He celebrated his 28th wedding anniversary Saturday more than a thousand miles from his wife. And today, on Mother’s Day, he’ll be covering yet another tournament, The Players, likely not finishing his work until dawn closes in.

The long hours certainly don’t bother him. Auclair sleeps only two hours many nights, then gets up to tackle another day. There’s no questioning the man is a complete workaholic. That was clear the time he was at a tournament and thought he was having a heart attack. He called the hospital nearby, told them he thought he was having a heart attack, but made sure to add, “but I don’t really have the time for it.”

He then proceeded to drive himself to the hospital.

“Most people think I’m crazy,” said Auclair. “But I have a great marriage, and I have a great relationship with my kids. There are people who are home every day who aren’t as close to their children as I am with mine.”

He has the phone bills to prove it. Before the invent of unlimited calling plans, Auclair was no stranger to monthly phone bills in the thousands, some as high as $2,500. And for those who may not believe in the axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder, know this: Those rare days when Tom is able to sneak home and see Karin, he still gets butterflies.

“It’s like we’re going on our first date,” he said.

T.J. went to his first Tour event with his dad when he was 8, and by the time he was in his mid-teens, he was working with him. At 27, he’s quietly become a veteran among golf media types; the U.S. Open at Oakmont will mark his 42nd major championship. T.J. is a junior editor at PGA.com. His younger brother, Kyle, 23, works closely with Tom at insidetheropes, and he’s developed into a talented photographer.

T.J. laughs when recalling the time he and his dad both came down with food poisoning while at The Belfry for the Ryder Cup.

“Yeah, most families do things together like sight-see,” T.J. said.

T.J. was alongside Tom in the rental van the day Tom chased Ben Curtis through those England streets in 2003, watching his dad race around frantically in a 5-speed on the left side of the road. To be honest, T.J. found the whole scene rather scary, seemingly not all that far removed from the paparazzi chase that resulted in Princess Diana’s death.

But after Tom ran down Curtis, got into a heated exchange with Curtis’ agent, IMG’s Clarke Jones (who he now counts as a friend), and finally landed his interview, he returned to the van and saw T.J. in tears. Was he still angry?

“Dad,” he told him, “I’m so proud of you.”

So Monday Tom Auclair heads home to Rhode Island, and an impressive run comes to an end. He’ll be home for nine days of first dates. Granted, it was only the other night he actually took the time to count up how many events his streak has covered. When others marvel at the prospect of somebody not missing a Tour stop in nearly a decade, he merely shrugs his shoulders.

“You know, there’s a lot of people out there who have worked 10, maybe 20 years at different jobs without missing a single day,” he said. “My office just changes every week.”

As for Katelyn’s plans after graduation? She wants to join the family business.

She must like to travel.

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