Two decades after his heyday and a double-bypass later, Wayne Levi is relishing every moment.
“After not playing well for so long, it sure feels good,” he said after finishing tied for third at last week’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, two shots behind winner Loren Roberts.
It was Levi’s best finish on the Champions Tour in three years. A year ago, that was almost unimaginable. His doctor had told him he needed heart surgery.
“You try to do all the right things,” said Levi, who turned 58 in February. “I walk, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, my blood pressure was good, my cholesterol was good. When he told me I had a heart attack, I almost collapsed. I still can’t believe it happened.”
Levi was operated on in April 2009 and made his return that June, finishing tied for 33rd at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. He made five starts before the surgery, his best showing a tie for 11th at the ACE Group Classic. His only other top 25 was a tie for 23rd at the SAS Championship in late September.
“It (heart attack) still has an effect on me – that it happened,” Levi said. “You kind of feel like you’re infallible. I guess you’re not.”
Levi, who was born in Little Falls in upstate New York and spends part of the year in New Hartford, won 12 times on the PGA Tour when he played regularly from 1977-97. In 1990, he won four times to become just the fifth player to earn more than $1 million in one season. He finished second to Greg Norman on the money list and was selected PGA player of the year.
Levi also was a member of the triumphant 1991 U.S. Ryder Cup team, though he lost 3 and 2 to Seve Ballesteros in singles at Kiawah Island.
Those heady days are long gone, but there’s still some game in those clubs as Levi heads to Canada for Friday’s opening round at the $1.8 million Montreal Championship.
With his 22-year-old son, Brian, caddying, Levi opened the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open with a 7-under 65 – one shot off his career low – to take sole possession of the lead. That hadn’t happened since the first round of the 2005 Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn, and he finished tied for 21st there. Levi also shared the first-round lead at the 2006 JELD-WEN Tradition and finished tied for 54th in that 72-hole major.
That he didn’t tail off last week at En-Joie Golf Club – he shot 65, 69, 69 to finish at 13 under – had a noticeable effect. Normally shy with the media, Levi bared his soul every day.
“The first day I saw my name leading the tournament I had goose bumps. That’s how good it felt to finally be back on the board and see my name up there,” he said. “For years on the regular tour, the first or second round my name was up there all the time, but I wasn’t 58. To see it back up there again, that was great. It felt so good.”
And it didn’t matter much that he missed short birdie putts on the final two holes that would have given him a shot at his third Champions Tour title.
“That’s a good way to finish. I haven’t been anywhere near the lead for a year,” he said. “It really kind of energizes you a little, gets you pumped up for next week. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of critiquing how I missed those last couple of putts, but who cares?”