Oldest player in Am Tour National finals has chance to win

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At age 78, Joe Strong of Wildomar, Calif., is the oldest player at the Golf Channel Amateur Tour Senior National Championship by more than five months.

Like his name suggests, Strong is strong. Athletic, too. He averages 240 yards off the tee. His thin physique, straw hat and aggressive swing gives him a likeness to Greg Norman. And just like the Shark, Strong isn’t just here to participate – he’s here to win.

“I’ve liked to compete my whole life,” Strong says.

Through two rounds he’s in 11th place in the Senior Jones flight (16-19.9 handicap), eight strokes behind leader Larry Dalton of Scarsdale, N.Y. Perhaps most importantly, however, Strong put the daunting Players Stadium course behind him on Thursday.

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“There’s not a lot to like about that course,” Strong said with a laugh following his round. “It’s just hard.”

Despite finding the water at No. 17 and making double-bogey, Strong closed with a solid five at 18 (which played like a par 5 the way the wind was blowing). He felt fine about his 98, which was considerably lower than the 114 he shot here in a practice round.

What was the difference between then and today?

“We have something to play for,” he says without hesitation.

His son, Joe, made the trip out from San Diego and is caddying for his dad this week. The two are good friends and play golf together at least once a week. As it turns out, they’re both 16 handicaps.

“We don’t compete against each other too much out there,” Joe Sr. says about playing golf with his son.

“The hell we don’t!” Joe Jr. interjects.

Joe Sr. says weightlifting has allowed him to stay in good golf shape – it also enables him to hit it past his son.

“No comment,” Joe Jr. said.

A member of the Am Tour for five years, Strong is making his third National Championship appearance. Like any confident golfer, he knows exactly what he needs to do to win.

“I’m shooting for 85 tomorrow and 80 the final day. I won’t get it, but I’m shooting for it,” he says. Strong knows what he’s talking about too. Dye’s Valley Course, which he’ll play Thursday, has been playing more difficult than St. Johns Golf & Country Club, where he’ll finish the week on Friday.

“There are some pretty good players out there,” Strong says. “It depends on what those guys do.”

As the old sage of the Jones flight, Strong knows guys are gunning for him.

“They all try to beat me,” he says. “Before we teed off today, both the guys I played with said they were coming after me.”

Is it his goal to win this week?

“I don’t have goals. I’m just happy to survive.”