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at a country club in College Station and a resort in New Ulm, and once giving lessons at a driving range that since has been replaced by a Wal-Mart.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 Web.com 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.''

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.