Wadsworth Hopes Chase Not Pipe Dream
Fred Wadsworth is what the PGA Champions Tour is all about.
Hope. Resurrecting dreams. A second chance.
There was a time, back in the mid-1980s, when it appeared Wadsworth might be a rising star on the PGA Tour. He left the University of South Carolina as a collegiate All-American with high hopes, turned professional in 1984, and won his first PGA Tour event in 1986.
He won more than $75,000 that year and followed it up with more than $80,000 in 1987. But that was the apex. For whatever reason, the magic left his game, and despite continuing to make sporadic appearances on the Tour, he pretty much disappeared from the scene.
Wadsworth put the dream on hold for the past 10 years and worked in real estate in his hometown of Columbia, S.C. He helped coach a local high school golf team. He worked on his golf game enough to keep it from eroding … and waited.
The waiting is over. Now he’s going to learn if he can still play the game at a high enough level to make it on the Champions Tour. He turned 50 in July and he’s hoping to find the magic one more time.
“I just want to see if I can do it or if it’s just a pipe dream,” Wadsworth said after tying for third place in the Sunbelt Tour’s Patriot Championship at National Golf Club last weekend.
Wadsworth has the aura of a professional. He’s 6-foot-3 and still athletic-looking. But he knows how tough it is to make it through the Champions Tour qualifying, and he’s taking nothing for granted.
“I’ve been practicing some, but mostly just trying to survive this economy,” he said, “and I’ve entered a couple of the Sunbelt tournaments. I’m just trying to get myself in a competitive venue and see where my game is.”
His game was in good shape at National, where he shot 70-74-67—211, two strokes behind playoff winner Jim Chancey and Rick Schuller and tied with Javier Sanchez.
The final-round 5-under-par 67 made Wadsworth the leader in the clubhouse for a brief period, but he was too realistic to think it would hold up.
“It won’t last,” he predicted. “The good golfers are still on the course.”
Wadsworth does have a leg up in the qualifying event, though.
“I’m exempt into the final stage of the qualifying,” he said. “That’s nice. Hopefully, I can get my game in shape, and we’ll see what happens.
“I finished fourth last week and I feel pretty good about my game and the way it’s progressing. One benefit I have is that I have a pretty good idea of what’s good enough to make it. I just have to be playing well enough to get there. Then we’ll just see how it goes. I think I can get there.”
Wadsworth was the last Monday qualifier to win a PGA tournament, doing that in the Southern Open in 1986. He also won the South African Open in 1989.
National Golf Club, a demanding Jack Nicklaus design, is a good test for any player. Its undulating greens, refurbished a few months ago, require a deft touch with the putter.
Wadsworth thought he handled the greens well enough, but felt Saturday’s round got away from him as he shot 2-over-par 74.
“That cost me the tournament,” he said. “I hit a couple of loose shots and had to take three penalty strokes. Actually, I hung in there pretty well considering, and I made some putts today”
The strong showings on the Sunbelt Tour, which offers golfers age 47 and up the opportunity to hone their games for a chance on the Champions Tour when they reach 50, have Wadsworth feeling that maybe his hopes are more than just a “pipe dream.”
“Golf is really a simple game,” he said. “You just have to keep the ball in play and make some putts. When you do that, it’s not really that hard.”
The final stage of qualifying begins Nov. 16 at the TPC Scottsdale in Arizona. Because of that long-ago win in the 1986 Southern Open, Wadsworth doesn’t have to advance though regional qualifying.
Who knows; that lone victory may turn out to be the “Big Break” in his professional career.
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