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a country club in College Station and a resort in New Ulm, and once giving lessons at a driving range that since has been replaced by a Wal-Mart.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

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.