Club pro finally makes tour dream come true

By Doug FergusonJuly 10, 2012, 9:39 pm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What makes golf so appealing is that it can be played for a lifetime.

And the dreams that go with it don't expire easily, either.

Such is the case of Tim Thelen. His name might not be familiar outside the PGA of America or southeast Texas. Thelen spent his career as a golf professional, working at a country club in College Station and a resort in New Ulm, and once giving lessons at a driving range that since has been replaced by a Wal-Mart.

He was good enough to play college golf at Houston Baptist - a Scottish kid named Colin Montgomerie was on his team - but he never made it through PGA Tour Qualifying School, and that was before there was an alternative like the Tour. Back then, there wasn't even a web. The one year he reached the final stage of Q-school, he was 38. And while there was a developmental tour, and Thelen had conditional status, he also had a steady income and an 11-year-old son.

Thelen won the Club Pro Championship twice and played in the PGA Championship nine times without ever making the cut. He played in 22 regular Tour events, through his status as a club pro or Monday qualifying, and made four cuts and the grand sum of $78,742 over 15 years.

But as he approached his 50th birthday, a conversation with the late club pro Bob Boyd changed everything.

''He played on the European Senior Tour. This was late 2009, and he had been playing for five years, and he loved it over there,'' Thelen said Tuesday morning from his home in College Station. ''It's different over there. But it's like I told my wife, there's an opportunity to make money, and we'll see the world.''

It has turned into so much more than he expected.

Two weeks ago in Munich, with wife Lucinda on the bag, Thelen holed out with a 6-iron for an albatross on the par-5 opening hole in the Berenberg Bank Masters. On the back nine, with Bernhard Langer and Barry Lane among those chasing him down, Thelen closed with three birdies on the last four holes to win.

Bags packed, hotel booked, they headed off to Switzerland for the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open. This time, it was a pair of Ryder Cup captains - former world No. 1 Ian Woosnam and Mark James - applying the pressure. Thelen made two late birdies to thwart the charge and won again.

And so ended his six-week journey that began in Michigan for the Senior PGA Championship and took him to Spain, England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and finally back home to Texas for two weeks.

That allowed the 51-year-old Thelen time to reflect before heading back over to Turnberry for the Senior British Open.

''I had a really good career as a club pro,'' said Thelen, who resigned from The Falls when he earned his European Senior card. ''Winning the Club Pro Championship twice, winning the National Assistant Pro Championship once ... I knew I could play. I didn't know I could reach the level I have today. You always dream of playing on a tour, and I never lost focus. But as a golf pro, you have to find time to play and practice.

''Every golf professional has that opportunity,'' he said. ''It's whether he takes that opportunity when the shop closes at 7 p.m., and there's still two hours to practice or play nine holes. Unfortunately, it's hard on the wife and kid. But you've got to keep your dreams alive.''

He remembers the conversation with his wife after earning his card.

''Two things can happen,'' he said. ''We can make some money. Or we can go broke. And we've been there before.''

Lucinda caddies for him in the summer until she has to go back to her day job teaching children with autism and working two nights a week at Texas A&M where she is an instructor on how to teach children with disabilities.

The only time Thelen ever traveled in his previous job was to Ireland and Wales for the PGA Cup, a Ryder Cup for club pros. That was as part of a team. Now, he and his wife have learned to book hotel rooms on the Internet, figuring out which rooms are close to the golf course and whether they need a rental car. With one TV channel in their hotel room in Switzerland, they wound up watching ''Jaws'' in German.

There was the time Thelen woke up in the middle of the night in France upon hearing his door open, only to see an elderly man standing there. ''I'm speaking English at him, he's speaking French at me, and we're getting nowhere,'' he said. The man presumably was given the wrong room key.

A friend who came over to caddie for him in Portugal had dry skin. They went to buy lotion and, not being able to read the label in Portuguese, bought liquid soap.

''After three days, he looked like a lizard,'' Thelen said.

On the golf course, it's the same game he started playing at age 6 growing up in Minnesota. Winning feels the same in Switzerland as it did at the Club Pro Championship. The difference was looking up at the leaderboard and seeing his name alongside guys like Langer and Woosnam.

''I look up at the board at the Club Pro Championship, I know most of those guys. I have dinner with them. I knew after so many years that I could win out there,'' he said. ''But in my second year on the European Senior Tour, getting to play golf with guys I grew up watching ... I didn't know if I could win.''

With back-to-back wins, Thelen now has made $144,711 this year and is second on the Order of Merit behind Senior PGA champion Roger Chapman. He wants to try Q-school on the Champions Tour in America this year. The prize money is higher. The travel is easier.

Whatever happens, he knows he has a tour to call home, even if it's thousands of miles away.

''I've had the opportunity to see the world and different cultures,'' Thelen said. ''I've loved golf since I started playing at 6 years old. This is a dream, something I've always wanted to do.''

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.