Good Times at Senior PGA Leave Lasting Impressions
A Boomer’s Journal
By Tom Anselm
Thanks to getting Media Credentials, I recently had the opportunity to mosey around the Bellerive Country Club as it hosted the 74th Annual Senior Professional Golfers Association Championship. As expected the course itself and the grounds in general were “quite lovely”, to use one of the participant golfer’s from the British Isles phrase.
The turf was so soft and full that I half expected to see “Keep Off the Grass” signs posted on the fairways. The membership puts a lot of stock and even more money into this effort, and it paid off as the pitch held up nicely over five days of near-continuous play and some characteristically St. Louis spring storms.
This year’s event was blessed with more good weather than bad, however. On the days I attended, the skies were sharply blue, or the overcast was just thin enough to warm the onlookers while sun burning the top of uncovered noggins (mine!). Two days required jackets, which I didn’t mind, because one of the perks of being a “Member of the Media” (ahem) was this rad sky-blue Adidas Climalite pullover which I of course wore ostentatiously everywhere I went. Although it didn’t mean a thing to the security staff, who religiously manned their posts and allowed access to places only to those with the proper clearance.
And I with my minimal-pass status was not getting into some of the places where the players were. But I am not complaining, not at all, since I was “inside the gates”, able to use the Media bathrooms, which were to Port-a-Potties what a Lexus is to a Yugo, got free breakfast AND lunch, and saw some of the greats of the game, or at least used-to-be-greats like Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Fred Funk, Jay Haas and Hale Irwin. Heck, I even caught sight of Ozzie Smith as he played in the ProAm, having a better front nine than his partner, Hall of Famer Watson.
This event was a huge undertaking, excellently organized and carried out, with hundreds of course volunteers, food service workers, shuttle drivers, tech support and network folks, and photographers, not to mention the players themselves, some of whom came from halfway around the globe just to frolic in America’s Heartland. And of course there were the “loopers”, or caddies, the real unsung heroes of the game.
One of my goals was to meet some of the behind-the-scenes workers, since like I said, my player access was limited to yelling “Go get ’em, Rocco” to one of my favorite players, Rocco Mediate. There were Ali and Sam, two cart girls, one of whom (Ali) is a North County product out of Trinity Catholic High School.
Another were husband and wife Lourdes and Freddie, natives of Florida, who travel with the security company for the PGA. Freddie was a Vietnam vet, shot three times, and a Purple Heart recipient. I asked him “why three times… wasn’t once enough?” He laughed, held up his four-fingered right hand and good-naturedly saluted me with the longest digit. I met Rochelle, poor girl, whose job it was to sit all day, every day, inputting the players scores and standings as they constantly changed. She said, “hey, it’s good to have a job, and I’m in the air-conditioning all day.”
And there was a good contingent of local and formerly-local talent to make things interesting. Foremost among them was Jay Haas, out of Belleville and currently residing in South Carolina, Hale Irwin from Joplin and now Arizona and Boonchu Raungkit from Florissant and now Thailand. (Just kidding about that guy. Seeing if you’re still paying attention.)
I enjoyed seeing Jay Delsing with his North County Glasgow Village roots struggling mightily against an ailing back to make the cut and hang in there through 72 holes to pull out some money and not a little respect from the crowd. There was a player named Bob Gaus, a club pro from Tower Tee Golf Center in South County who came in ahead of such PGA notables as Lanny Wadkins, Hal Sutton and defending Senior PGA champ Roger Chapman. So a nice showing there. And former champion Tom Wargo, at 70 the oldest guy out there, showing how even us more-seasoned citizens can enjoy this capricious game.
Speaking of capricious (cool word, right?) Sports are just that, with the line drive just hitting inside the foul line, the pass skipping off the wide-open receivers fingertips, the puck clanging off the goal post (read “Blues”). But maybe golf is the most capricious of all, since one is punished for even the slightest error. That 3-foot putt slipping just wide can make the difference between winning $378,000 or splitting second place money, between running away with the match or sinking on the last few holes as somebody no one had ever heard of roars past you for the win.
Which is what happened in the final day of the tourney.
One Khoki Idoki from Japan shot the round of his life with a 6-under par score of 65 to roll into the big time. In his first visit to America, and getting surely his first Bud Light shower in celebration, he gave credence to the notion that if you just can hit it straight and make a few putts, you can master this game.
I am left with some telling images and notions. Senior citizens smacking hundreds of shots on the range, with hopes of needing only about 40 or so good ones later on to have a good round. Rocco Mediate missing a “gimmee” putt and then comically imploring the crowd to help him understand what just happened. The bone-cracking sound of a pro’s strike as he whacks driver off the first tee. The sadness that I didn’t invent the khaki short, which was the fashion statement of choice among an estimated 79.678% of all males in attendance. (Hey… think there’s any significance to the connection of “khaki” and “Khoki”? Hmmm… eerie.)
And, last but not least, no Blue Gatorade. All the orange and red you could handle. But alas, no Blue. Then again, who am I to complain. I just hung out for free at the 74th Senior PGA Championship.
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