ST. LOUIS — The ooohs from the crowd told how close Jay Delsing got.
It was on the 18th hole of Bellerive Country Club, the last of Delsing’s opening round at the Senior PGA Championship on Thursday. Delsing had hit a crisp pitch shot from the edge of the green, and his ball headed toward the cup in such a fashion that it drew an audible gasp from the mixed-drink sippers who sat in the green bleachers nearby.
The ball missed, and it was raining, but Delsing smiled. He flipped his club with a flick of his wrist, let it make one rotation in the air and caught it by the handle. He traded his caddie for a putter, then tapped in the ball.
“It’s gotta be worth 25 cents,” Delsing said about that ball after he turned in his scorecard.
“It will be worth 12 once I put this on it,” he added as he Sharpied his signature over the dimples before handing it to his caddie.
That tells you everything there is to know about Delsing’s approach to this weekend. When a guy gets a chance to do something he figured would never happen, he tends to enjoy the moment. In fact, he might enjoy it so much he turns it into something better than expected.
You see, Delsing didn’t think he would be playing in the Senior PGA Championship. The St. Louis native had golfed professionally for almost three decades, but never in one of his hometown’s big events. When the PGA Championship came to Bellerive in 1992, he was a first alternate. When the World Golf Championships followed much later, he was in his mid-40s and failed to qualify. And when Delsing, now 52, heard this tournament was coming, he figured another opportunity would pass him by.
He hadn’t played competitively in 2 1/2 years. A bad disc had been removed from his back, and the hotel beds that accompanied golf tournaments didn’t do him any favors. Here was a chance to finally play at home, but Delsing had no way to qualify.
A friend, professional golfer Trevor Dodds, provided a sliver of hope. He told Delsing the PGA of America sometimes offers exemptions to golfers who provide a good reason for wanting to play in a Senior PGA event.
“Trevor Dodds told me, ‘Hey man, you should write a letter,” Delsing said.
Delsing wrote three. He sent them in January, each one to a different high-ranking member of the organization. Months went by before he answered a phone call from PGA of America manager Susan Martin. She told him his request had been approved.
“I was just tickled,” Delsing said.
On Thursday, he proved to be more than a courtesy invite. His opening-round score of 70 was 1-under-par, four off the lead and tied for 19th. If things keep going in this direction, Delsing might try to give traveling another go.
“I hope so,” he said. “I really don’t know what to expect. This will be more golf than I’ve played in a row in two-plus years. So I don’t know. Right now, I feel good.”
Right now is really all that matters, isn’t it?
Maybe that’s too deep of a question for a golf tournament.
But it sure is fun watching Delsing make the most of his moment.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at email@example.com.