You heard the one about the golf instructor suggesting that his frustrated student take two weeks off from golf and then quit. You can bet that there are a few players who were in the Florida Senior Open field at Bear Lakes this past weekend who wished Pete Williams had taken that advice.
Williams, who put the clubs away for 15 years only to return in 2008, became the first amateur to win the Senior Open title in its history.
“I’m still in disbelief,” said Williams, who calls Juno Beach home. ”It’s just been a week where everything fell into place.”
“Fell into place,” hardly describes the show Williams put on. After opening with a 2-under-par 70 on the Lake Course, Williams took control of the tournament with a sparkling seven birdie, one bogey round for a 6-under-par 66 on Saturday.
“After the round, my girls said, ‘Well, Dad, it looks like you’ve won the tournament,’ ” he recounted. “I just told them that there was still a lot of golf to be played.”
And play he did, but there was still a moment of drama that raised a thought that things might unravel.
“(Sunday) on 16, I had a three-shot lead and hit my tee shot in the water,” Williams explained. “I thought that it might cost me, but my playing partner, Gene Fieger, hit his ball in the water as well.
“I was able to get up and down for a bogey and he wasn’t. So, instead of losing at least a shot of my lead, I actually gained one. It gave me a boost of confidence.”
Seizing the opportunity, Williams proceed to knock his 3-iron second shot on the par-5 17th to within eight feet. He made the putt for an eagle and although he bogeyed the 18th he was home free with a 4-under-par 68 for a 12-under 204 total. He was four shots clear of co-runners up Fieger, from Naples, and Ed Sabo, from Tequesta.
Now, about that 15-year hiatus; it wasn’t borne of frustration with the game, nor were there any lingering injuries.
“I just did it because I wanted to spend more time with my family and on my job,” the United Airlines pilot explained. “When I came back in 2008 and found that I could still play, I got serious about it.
“Mostly, I’ve been playing county events, but hopefully this might get me some invitations into some FSGA events. I’d love to play in some of their team events.”
You can well believe that there are a lot of teams that could use a player who can shoot 12-under in the heat of a tournament.
The first round of the tournament had Jupiter’s Lee Rinker and Stuart’s Jerry Tucker sharing the lead at 4-under 68. Defending champion Mike San Filippo, trying for his unprecedented fifth Florida Senior Open title finished tied for eighth place at 3-under par 213.