Less than two months shy of his 70th birthday, Bellingham golfer Rick Weihe has no misconceptions about being one of the longer hitters off the tee.
"There are a lot of younger guys out here that can really whack it," Weihe said in a phone interview from his New Jersey-area hotel as he prepares to play in the USGA Senior Amateur Championship beginning on Saturday, Sept. 29. "We were out playing a practice round (Thursday, Sept. 27, on the Mountain Ridge Country Club course, where the tournament will be held), and I had some younger guy out-drive me by nearly 85 yards. It was a big, long hole, so I had 210 yards left, and he only had 126. It hardly seems fair."
But what Weihe may lose in drive length, he hopes to make up for with experience.
This will actually be his third time playing in the USGA Senior Amateur - the United States Golf Association's top tournament for amateur golfers over age 55.
He played in 2004 at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, where he advanced through the first two days of stroke play into the match play portion of the tournament and won his first match.
Weihe made it back in 2005, when the tournament was held at The Farm Country Club in Rocky Face, Ga., and missed advancing to match play by just 1 stroke.
Obviously, Weihe is excited to be back for a third time this year.
"It's really a big deal to play in this kind of tournament," he said. "It is first class all the way. These people - it seems like they can't do enough for you. Every time you turn around, somebody is there willing to help. It's a whole lot of fun playing in a tournament like this."
Weihe even was amazed that he received "brand new Titleists for practice."
But Weihe knows he has his work cut out for him, when he tees off for the first round at 12:19 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
The Mountain Ridge course, which like Weihe's home club at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, is sure to challenge all 156 golfers in the field.
"The golf course is extremely long," Weihe said. "I know I don't hit the ball as long as some of the guys, so that's going to be challenging. The greens are really big and rolling, too. If you putt the ball wrong, it can roll right off the green on you. I was watching a guy that just missed the cup, and it ended up rolling 30 yards off the green. They really shaved all the way around the greens, and most of them have big, rolling hills in them. ... Some of them look like they have an elephant buried in the middle of them."
But executing in conditions that are tough is where Weihe hopes his experience pays off.
He need only look back to the Senior Amateur qualifying tournament earlier this month at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Seattle to see just how important that can be.
Weihe did not get off to a good start in that Sept. 6 tournament.
Actually, he got off to what should have been a disastrous start - he triple bogeyed the second hole of the day, before bogeying the third.
But rather than panic, Weihe relied on his experience to get him through the day.
"I knew the scores would be high," he said. "I played in a Senior Amateur qualifier and saw guys get in with a 4-over. I knew this course was going to play much harder. I just stuck in there, and darned if I didn't finish 5-over and get a spot. You wouldn't have thought I would after I played the first three holes 4-over, but I played the next 15 in 1-over, and I was the only guy to do that. The guy who won it (Jim McNelis) hit an eagle on the first hole, so he was miles ahead of me, but I finished only (2 strokes) behind him. I don't hit the ball very far, but I'm pretty accurate. It was just a matter of hitting the fairways and hitting the greens, hitting the fairways and hitting the greens, and for the most part I did that."
It's exactly what he hopes to do again over the next week.
Weihe's first goal, obviously, is to get through the two-day stroke-play portion of the tournament.
"I know I can't panic," he said. "I figure a pair of 75s should get you into the match play. I'll just try to beat 75 those first two days and see what happens."
And if he gets to the match play, Weihe said that is when anything can happen.
"That's the beauty of this tournament," he said. "I know I'm capable of beating just about anybody on a given day. If we were to play four straight days, that's when the younger guys, with the length they can hit and the extra strokes I might have to take on the par 5s, that's where it wears on you. But in a match play format, I've got a chance."
And with the exception of his early struggles in the qualifier, Weihe said he feels his game is right about where he wants it heading into Saturday.
"You want to be coming in with your game in pretty good shape," Weihe said. "It's not as much fun if you've peaked too early. I've been playing pretty well recently, but I know I can still play better. I have high expectations to make the match play, and then the fun begins."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
USGA SENIOR AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP
When: Saturday, Sept. 29, through Thursday, Oct. 4
Site: Mountain Ridge Country Club, West Caldwell, N.J.
Format: Stroke play qualification on Saturday and Sunday; top 64 finishers advance to match play rounds Monday through Thursday
Field: 156 golfers
Average age of field: 58.99 years
Oldest golfer: Mike Rice 72 (born Aug. 6, 1940)
Youngest golfer: Joe Russo 55 (born Sept. 13, 1957)
Returning USGA Senior Amateur champions: Mike Bell (2006), Mark Bemowski (2004), Marvin "Vinny" Giles III (2009), Louis Lee (2011), George "Buddy" Marucci Jr. (2008), Greg Reynolds (2002), Mike Rice (2005), Kemp Richardson (2001, 2003), Paul Simson (2010)
2011 champion: Louis Lee
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.