Richard Lord | Tee to Green: Ahlen's latest feat shows us golf is truly a game for a lifetime
Over the past few months, I have written about a win for 66-year-old Bob Linn and the emergence in Berkshire County club championships of young golfers, including 20-year-old Thomas Fraser, who captured two club titles in eight days.
Indeed, the 46-year age difference between Linn, who earlier this summer played against the young guns in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, reaffirms what those of us who love the game know — golf is a game for a lifetime.
When Linn captured the Massachusetts Super Senior Championship several weeks ago, his first-ever win in a Mass Golf state championship, I didn't expect his mind to be focused on someone else when I called him for an interview.
"Hey, did you hear what Bobby did?" were the first words out of the champion's mouth after I congratulated him on his long-awaited victory.
Linn was talking about fellow Berkshire Hills Country Club member Bobby Ahlen, who happens to be a golfing hero to both Linn and myself. It seems like every couple of years the 92-year-old Ahlen, who beats his age more often than not, does something on the golf course that demands our attention.
A few of those have included his shooting a 71 from the white tees at Berkshire Hills when he was 83, going 2-2 (birdie, eagle with a 200-yard hole out) back-to-back on Nos. 5 and 6 at The Hills in 2013 and hitting his 10th hole-in-one at the club in 2017.
Well, on a cool and windy day recently at Waubeeka Golf Links, the nonagenarian was up to his old tricks. Admittedly playing a shortened course because of overnight rain — Waubeeka owner Mike Deep estimated the course was playing about 5,100 yards — Ahlen shot a 75, some 17 years under his age, playing with good friend Debbie Polaski on a course he is not very familiar with.
"It was just a fun day on a beautiful course," said Ahlen in a phone interview. "I got up-and-down a lot and I must say I was surprised that I had a 75 in the end. It was a rewarding day at Waubeeka."
Ahlen said that while he found it "rewarding" and gives him something to "brag about"," he still downplayed the feat because he was playing a shortened course, which is par for the course for the humble senior.
"It wasn't a USGA round," said Ahlen, who says he is "80 percent back" from dealing with a painful urinary tract infection. "The tees were way up front and I've got to say there were gimme putts given."
Well, I haven't seen Bob play in person over the past few years, but anyone who plays with him regularly will tell you he isn't about to miss a gimme-length putt. His unique left-handed, side-saddle putting style is a huge reason his scores can still amaze us.
When I talk about the virtues of golf to young people, one point I try to drive home is that golf is a game you can play forever. Of course, for most teens or 20-somethings, that doesn't exactly send them running to the golf course — though my Bob Ahlen stories as gained traction with some.
Fortunately for me, I learned the game-for-a-lifetime lesson early . When I was in high school in Florida my favorite foursome included my best golfing buddy, John Stoltz III (he happens to now be a Master PGA professional), his father, John Jr., and 80-something year-old grandfather, John Sr. We were playing the second hole, a par-3 measuring perhaps 160 yards, at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla., when the grandfather hit a hole-in-one and the family and I went crazy.
That was the moment I realized that I'd taken up a sport I could play into old age, which I have done. Now, because of the example Bob has presented me with, I have been inspired to work to get better at age 70 and so far it is working. I am playing the best I have in many years and figure maybe by the time I am 75 I can do once what Ahlen has done a thousand (or more) times.
Linn summed up Ahlen's remarkable game seven or so years ago, and considering his latest feat, the number 25 doesn't need to be updated.
"I was thinking that it would be great to be able to do what he is doing at 86 and then I realized that means I've got to play 25 more years to do that," said Linn.
Marc Jemilo, a new member at the Links at Worthington but no stranger to winning club championships, defeated James Ryan in a sudden-death playoff to win his first men's club championship recently in Worthington.
Jemilo, a former Gateway High and University of Hartford golfer who has won six club championships at the Blandford Club, shot a 3-over par 73 in the final round to make up two shots on Ryan and force the playoff. Both golfers finished the 54-hole tournament at 10-over 220.
The eventual winner opened the tournament with an even-par 70 to open up a three-shot lead but fell two behind after 36 holes when he slumped to a 77 in the second round.
Jemilo rallied to catch Ryan and force a playoff in an up-and-down final round. He trailed by two shots heading to the par-3 18th hole but drained a clutch 12-foot birdie putt after Ryan had to settle for a bogey after missing the green.
Playing the same hole in the playoff, Jemilo clinched the victory with a par over Ryan, a seven-time club champion, who had to settle for another bogey.
Meanwhile, in the women's club championship, Chris Eugin pulled away on the final nine holes to earn her fifth consecutive club title by 15 shots over Kim Swanda and Liz Kay. Eugin led by only three shots after the first round of the 27-hole tournament after shooting an 85, but she recorded a 38 while Swanda slumped to a 50 and Kay shot a 42 over the final nine holes.
In the senior's men's championship, Steve Magargal, one of the region's best players for decades, showed that he can still go low, recording an even-par 70 to outdistance runner-up Chris Petrides by seven shots.
Here's a reminder that this year's edition of the Berkshire County Fall Series will begin with a two-man scramble at Berkshire Hills Country Club on Wednesday, Sept. 23. Play will be begin with a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m.
Senior golfers wanting to play should call the pro shop at the club at 413 442-1451 to enter and reserve a cart. The pro shop will explain all COVID-19 protocols and check-in procedures when you call. There will be no dinner following play but there will be food available outside of the grill beginning at 11 a.m.
As usual, the field will be broken into two divisions determined by the average age of partners. There will be both low gross and low net prizes in each division. The entry fee is $45 and includes golf and prizes. Skins will be $20 a team (gross only).
Next week's event is the first of five tournaments to be played on consecutive Wednesdays. Following the opener, Greenock Country Club will host a singles tournament on Sept. 30. The remainder of the tournaments — Oct. 7 at the Golf Club at Wyndhurst Manor (formerly Cranwell), Oct. 14 at Wahconah Country Club and Oct. 21 at the Waubeeka Links — will be two-man scrambles.
The tournament at Greenock will have a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start while the other three events will tee off at 12:30 p.m.
As usual, the series will serve as a fund raiser for junior golf in Berkshire County.
For more information, contact Bill Gates at 413 464-3184 or Paul Traversa at 413 822-5613.
To contact Richard Lord: email@example.com
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