Dulac on Golf: Over the hill? Not for U.S. Open hopeful Bob Ford


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At age 60, at a time when most of his professional contemporaries have long given up on the opportunity, Bob Ford continues to compete every year in the qualifying process for the U.S. Open.

He does not play with the idea he might make it back for a fifth time to the Open championship. Rather, Ford enters the local qualifier because of the connection and admiration he has for the tournament itself.

"The Open just always meant so much to me, with it being at Oakmont and getting to play in some of them," said Ford, director of golf at Oakmont Country Club, who is also head professional at Seminole Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla. "I've felt out of respect I should do it. I really have no expectations to make it through."

But there was Ford Wednesday, making an 18-foot birdie on the final hole at Valley Brook Country Club to shoot 1-under 71 and gain one of four spots into a 36-hole sectional qualifier -- the last step on the road to the U.S. Open June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2.

Ford made five birdies and four bogeys to tie Kevin Shields for the final qualifying spots and advance to a sectional qualifier in Purchase, N.Y.

"I don't understand how he does it," said Connoquenessing CC professional John Mazza, 58, who has played in two U.S. Opens but hasn't tried to qualify in nine years. "He just loves it. I keep wondering why I would enter a tournament. He's just the opposite."

Right now, with most of the 111 local qualifiers completed, Ford is the oldest player in the country to advance to a sectional qualifier, according to the United States Golf Association. Since 1997, the oldest player to make it through sectional qualifying into the U.S. Open was 49 (Mark McCormick in 2012, Jim White in 1999, Ken Peyreferry in 1998), according to the USGA.

Ford would shatter that mark if he can make it through the June 2 sectional qualifier at Old Oaks and Century country clubs outside New York.

The West Penn Golf Association does not keep such records, but executive director Jeff Rivard said he can't remember a player in his 60s making it through a local qualifier.

In a fitting end to his week, Ford will receive the Arnold Palmer Spirit of Hope Award tonight at an auction reception at the Fred Rogers Center on the Saint Vincent College campus.

Trivia

Martin Kaymer is the fourth to win The Players championship along with a major championship (2010 PGA) and a World Golf Championship event (2011 HSBC Champions). Who are the others? Answer at end.

Back in the saddle

The last time Bob Friend stepped away from competitive golf on the PGA Tour, it took him six months to regain his edge and feel comfortable competing again.

That was in 1996 when Friend lost his status on the PGA Tour and spent a year teaching at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. After being persuaded by LSU teammates David Toms and Emelyn Aubrey to return to competition, Friend went to qualifying school and gained exempt status on the Web.com Tour in 1997, then went back to qualifying school that fall and regained his PGA Tour card for 1998.

"Now I've been away 10 years," said Friend, an Oakmont native and director of golf operations at Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, W.Va. "So I'm being very patient."

At age 50, Friend is trying another comeback, this time on the Champions Tour. And he is doing it by playing in Monday qualifiers with the hope of getting in the 54-hole events.

So far, Friend has qualified twice in five tries -- at the Allianz Championship and the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic -- but he has made enough money in those two events ($12,320) to rank 91st on the money list and get into the 156-player field at the Senior PGA Championship that begins Thursday in Benton Harbor, Mich.

"I've not set the world on fire, but I'm 50, I'm playing well and I'm in my old tournament mode where I feel very comfortable competing," he said.

Friend wants to play well enough in the Senior PGA to move up on the money list and hopefully be eligible for the 31st Constellation Senior Players Championship at the Fox Chapel Golf Club in June.

Friend was hoping to qualify for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 because that is the site of his last Open appearance in 1997. But he shot 76 in an 18-hole qualifier Wednesday at Valley Brook and failed to gain one of the four qualifying spots.

"My goal is to play my way into Fox Chapel," he said. "I need to play great in order to do that. I need to get into this tournament and have a great finish at the Senior PGA. This is a very important opportunity for me to get in, and, now that I'm in, I'm very excited."

Next batch of Hall of Famers

A three-time PGA Tour winner, the area's leading golf philanthropist and "The Schenley Sphinx" headline the five inductees into this year's Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.

Butler native Jim Simons, who almost won the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion as an amateur and went on to win three times on the PGA Tour, leads a class of five honorees that include Pittsburgh businessman Frank B. Fuhrer, former U.S. public links champion Karl Kauffmann, former three-time U.S. Women's Amateur champ Dorothy Campbell Hurd and five-time West Penn Open champion Roy Vucinich.

The players will be recognized at the West Penn Golf Association's players dinner in the fall.

Simons was an outstanding junior player who won the PGA of America's Junior Championship in 1965 and 1966 and qualified for two U.S. Opens before graduating from high school. He was named the NCAA's player of the year in 1971 at Wake Forest and led the U.S. Open after 63 holes that year before eventually missing a playoff between Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino by one. Simons, who won the 1978 Memorial among his three PGA Tour victories, died in 2005.

Fuhrer, 89, is a staunch supporter of amateur golf and responsible for funding many tournaments in Western Pennsylvania, none bigger than the two-day Family House Invitational that ran from 1984 to 1997 and featured many of the top players on the PGA Tour. His current Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational offers the largest purse for club professionals and mini-tour players in the area. A member at Oakmont and the Field Club, Fuhrer has also provided financial assistance to the WPGA for many other events.

Kauffmann played at Schenley Park and won the U.S. Public Links Championship from 1927-1929, joining Tiger Woods and Willie Anderson as the only players to win three consecutive USGA titles. Nicknamed "The Schenley Sphinx," Kauffmann won the 1925 West Penn Amateur and 10 city amateur titles. He died in 1951.

Hurd was a member at Oakmont and Westmoreland and lived in the area when she won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1909, 1910 and again in 1924, when she became the oldest champion ever at 41. She also won the Pennsylvania Women's Amateur in 1934 at 51. Hurd died in 1963.

Vucinich, 67, who was head professional at Allegheny CC for 27 years, won five West Penn Open titles over four decades, tying Jock Hutchison and Perry DelVecchio for most Open victories. He was also won the Tri-State Open, TSPGA Section championship, TSPGA Match Play championship, 1988 Pennsylvania Open and the Pennsylvania PGA championship. In 1997, he finished 12th in the British Senior Open.

Quotable

After chiding Jim Furyk once for his extraneous pre-shot putting routine, NBC's Johnny Miller jumped on him again when Furyk's 4-foot par putt at the 72nd hole was interrupted by the horn suspending play: "Well, when you take that much time messing around with it, that's what you get."

Dissa and data

■ The Constellation Senior Players Championship is offering a weekly grounds tickets for $90 that also includes a free round at either North Park GC or South Park GC. The limited offer, which represents a $30 savings, is available until July 19. Go to cspgolf.com. In addition, all active duty, reserve, military retirees and their dependents will be admitted free to the tournament. Military members and their families also receive complimentary admission to the Birdies for the Brave Patriots outpost. Go to Birdiesforthebrave.org to get pre-verified.

■ US Golf Camps, a top-rated junior program, will begin its 11th season at the Kiski School in Saltsburg with eight sessions throughout the summer. Camp dates are June 15-20, June 22-27, June 29-July 4, July 6-11, July 13-18, July 20-25, July 27-August 1, August 3-8. Go to usgolfcamps.com to register.

Trivia answer

Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott are the only other players to win a major title, a WGC event and The Players.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac. Listen to "The Golf Show with Gerry Dulac" every Thursday 6-7:30 p.m. on 970 ESPN.


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