The notes, taken in my skinny reporter’s notebook (that was part of my “media” goodie bag) told the story:
SAT BG long one #10 for 3 (circled) Jay on 15-good D-iron to 15’-pin back ctr 2P par BG 14 2 putt P #15 good D 185 appx to G ir to front 40’ almost md it Jay 16 nice cut 3I/2I? on G
There’s one word here that made all of the others that followed possible—–“SAT” My hieroglyphics from out on the course following Bob Gaus (“BG”) and Jay Delsing (“Jay”) on SATURDAY, May 25 mean both players, 2 of our 6 “locals”, made the 2-day cut at the Sr. PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. That was “Job 1” for both players. A reaffirmation that they could handle the big-event nerves, the pressure of playing in front of friends and family and for the hometown fans who came out to Bellerive to root for them—even though perhaps all they knew was that these guys were St. Louisans.
Bob and Jay had little in common leading up to the tournament. Both became PGA Professionals after college. Bob stayed home, has played in (and won) many local and regional tournaments over the years and is still a top player in the Gateway PGA Section. His “regular” job is teaching students of all abilities at the Tower Tee facility in Affton. Bob qualified for Bellerive by finishing 3rd in the PGA National Club Pro Tournament held last fall. Jay played for almost 30 years on Tour (565 events, 276 cuts made), hurt his back just before turning 50 and had major surgery. He hadn’t played in a tournament in 2 ½ years before getting a special exemption into the field from the PGA of America. He wasn’t making excuses when he told me before the event that he really didn’t know how his back was going to hold up… And if it did trouble him during the event, I knew he’d never mention it.
Talking with Bob after the “SAT” round, I asked, point-blank, what it meant to make the cut (at +3). “It means a lot. It’s a dream come true. So now I really have nothing to lose. Hitting the ball well, not scoring all that well… I was plus 1 today, so I’m 4 over total. Goal now is to get out there tomorrow and try to go low, get those 4 shots back, and shoot even par for the four rounds.”
After his 3rd round Jay talked with the media: Q: How was it for you today out there? ”The golf right now is a bonus. I’m able to play again, so it’s fun. And I really played well today, even though I didn’t get the score (73). I hit a lot of real quality shots after not hitting very many yesterday– coming in on my back nine was real stinky and I hit a lot of bad ones. Today I hit maybe two. I had a couple of wrong clubs that didn’t help, but I was much more in control today.”
SUN Jay 7:36 BG 8:03 A couple of highlights and not so great holes from their final rounds:
BG #2 Iron to 1st cut on L second way rt 50’ 3P bogey #11 6 I (?) lay up W to 7 ft bird Jay -2 on front #15 gd D down L side bad I into L bunk barely out chip to 6’ missed double #16 rt rough above bunker good pitch made par P
The (partial) translation? Bob’s only 3-putt in 72 holes came early on Sunday as he flared an iron approach on the second hole and left himself a long and frightening putt all the way across the second green to the left hole location. He missed the lengthy second putt to make bogey. The tee on #11 was way up and made it easily reachable if one could hit a straight 3-wood or driver. Bob, coming off bogey on the difficult 10th, didn’t take the bait and laid up short of the water. Hit a beautiful wedge to 7 feet under the hole and made the putt for birdie. Jay had it going on the front with a bogey-free 2 under 34 on the front before “the only shank I ever remember hitting in tournament competition” led to a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 13th. A mis-hit approach after a great drive on 15 went into the deep front-left bunker and led to a double. He recovered to make a nice par on 16 and birdied the par-5 17th.
All of our guys with a local connection had their moments. Bellerive Director of Instruction Brian Fogt (who received a special exemption into the field) got the honor of, in his words, “throwing out the first pitch.” He hit the first drive in the competition on Thursday off #1. Jerry Tucker, former Head Professional at Bellerive, also received an exemption from the PGA. He drove up from his home in South Florida, played a couple of practice rounds to reacquaint himself with his former home track, and gave it his all over the first two days. JC Anderson got off to a 2 under-par first 9 on opening day but couldn’t make enough birdies to offset the bogeys over the final 27 holes. Tom Wargo, the oldest player in the field, had serious issues playing the difficult par-3 6th both days. Played that hole in +6 Thursday and Friday but otherwise played steady golf and thrilled the crowd on #9 Thursday with a closing birdie 3.
I ran into a friend (nicknamed “the Pup”—and I have no idea why…) late Saturday as I was heading back to the Media Center to regroup and he was leaving a trailer simply marked “scoring.” Turns out he had just finished carrying the walking scoreboard for Kohki Idoki’s group that day. He said, “You won’t believe the putting exhibition I just saw. This Idoki fellow made EVERYTHING today.” That “golf-speak” about someone who putted very well turned out to be an eerie coincidence as Idoki continued his putting mastery on Sunday as he came from behind with the low round of the tournament (65) to become the 74th Champion.
A great tournament week in this golf-crazy town. The crowds at Bellerive grew steadily from Thursday through Sunday and I’m sure the PGA officials were pleased with the attendance. The course more than held its own with a winning score of -11. We now have the 2018 PGA Championship to look forward to. Bellerive is going to get a few more “tweaks” but should again stand up to the test.
In closing, back to Bob and Jay. We put this article under our feature department called “The Match” because their “match”, especially those first 2 days, was against the golf course and par. Bob shot even par the first day and Jay shot 1-under. So they had a bit of cushion for day two, but both were perilously close to the cut line of +4—in fact Jay had to par his 36th hole, #9, to make it “on the number.” Bob was +3 for the two days with 71-74. Both stayed completely focused on the task at hand until the last putt was holed on Friday—and their reward was two more days, and a nice paycheck, in front of the appreciative and supportive spectators in their home town. Well played, boys.