By Gary Larabee
As we say farewell to another glorious golf season here on the North Shore – and you most-blessed ones head for Florida or Arizona – it’s time to acknowledge one young man who simply will not give up chasing a dream and take to task one of our storied golf club memberships that is falling short in fulfilling its responsibilities to the game.
First, huge plaudits – and a standing ovation – to 37-year- old Rob Oppenheim. At first glance one might think that Oppenheim, he of Salem and Andover heritage, was flounder- ing as a professional golfer. But in fact, he is thriving. His story has become more remarkable after he regained his PGA Tour card on Oct. 2 by finishing fifth overall and winning $161,000 in the four-tournament Web.com playoffs. Note that he won only $150,000 during the entire Web.com regular season and was looking at another year on the Web.com circuit unless he came up big in the second-chance playoffs.
In a cutthroat competition in which many players Oppenheim’s age are one-and-doners upon falling off the PGA Tour money wagon, Oppenheim is Mr. Persistence, a true believer in his quest to succeed in the Big Show.
And this coming at a fragile age when the majority of his fellow competitors, especially America’s new crop of stars on the big tour, are in their 20s. Oppenheim, a former Massachusetts Amateur and Open winner, is surely a late bloomer, but could care less about his age. He has been a man of patience since joining the Web.com Tour in 2010 and earning his first PGA Tour card in 2016, a short-lived one-year membership that tossed him back on the Web.com circuit for 2017.
“So much of the game at this level is patience and knowing your limitations; knowing who you are and how to get the best out of your abilities,” Oppenheim told this observer in 2016. So, after winning less than $500,000 on the PGA Tour in 2016 and failing to regain his card by a mere $392, it was back to the Web.com in ’17, where the age discrepancy between the shorter-hitting Oppenheim and his rivals was even wider.
No matter. The soft-spoken Oppenheim was optimistic heading into 2017 and confirmed that outlook when he, taking advantage of a sponsor exemption into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, finished eighth and won $216,000 – the largest paycheck of his career. Only hitch was the cash did not count on his 2017 Web.com earnings.
Determined to rejoin the Speith/Thomas/Fowler/Johnson bandwagon for 2017, Oppenheim played 18 of the last 19 weeks of the Web.com campaign, saving his best golf for the end – the Web.com playoffs. Then he went right out and made it 19 tournaments in 20 weeks by competing in the first event of the new PGA Tour season in Napa, Calif., the Safeway Open. Rob missed the cut at Safeway, then took a breather – finally – the following week.
Just call him Iron Man or Marathon Man. And a marvelous story when he’s ready to write his memoir. But hopefully, first he will reach the summit in his second bid on the PGA Tour.
Second, a few raspberries – and not for the first time from this aging servant – to one of the region’s great golf clubs – Myopia – for continuing to reject the concept of hosting an appropriate United States Golf Association championship for the first time since 1908. The South Hamilton club boasts one of America’s 100 greatest courses, created by Herbert Leeds in the 1890s. The club gained immediate acclaim and became the first club to host four U.S. Opens, the last in 1908.
But why no USGA championships since?
The answer is irrelevant today, but the issue was pertinent all year as Salem entertained its sixth USGA championship, the 38th U.S. Senior Open June 29-July 2. Financials aside, the event was a major success, like the previous five, and the magnificent Donald Ross-designed course sparkled during 20 hours of Fox Sports television coverage.
The U.S. Open has passed Myopia by. But the course, which when played is like a trip a century back in time, all these decades could have been a regular rotating venue for a low- key national tournament.
Myopia is ideal, in my humble opinion, for staging a U.S. Senior Amateur, men’s or women’s, a U.S. Girls’ Junior, or a Four-Ball, the newest championship on the USGA calendar. Consummating such an arrangement with the USGA would make national headlines in the golf media and draw excep- tional galleries come tourney week.
I know Myopia’s membership and leaders are sick of reading about this under my name. But I remain keen on the matter. I would love to see them reconsider their current stance and welcome the golf world onto their sacred property – and Fox Sports, too – for a USGA championship. It’s never too late.
Word has reached us from Plano, Texas, that Cotton Dunn, Kernwood’s head pro from 1969 to 1982, died Oct. 7 at his home. Dunn was 79.