Lonnie Nielsen: My Old Pro
A year ago, I sat dejectedly in front of this screen. My old pro had finished 35th on the Champions Tour money list, 35th IN THE OLD GUYS’ WORLD, and had failed to retain his card.
Lonnie Nielsen had spent the entire 2004 season with a complete exemption, garnered in the toughest Q-School out there. No more than 8 guys get their cards during the C-Tour school. He missed keeping it by five spots. I know. I was there for every week of the adventure. There was still hope, however: the 2004 School.
It was too much for the pro to make it through two consecutive years. He nearly did, though, with a final round 65 good for a vault into conditional status. Still, I wasn’t optimistic. How many events could he get into, anyway? No cuts, guaranteed money, who wouldn’t want to play?
What I hadn’t counted on was the personality factor. The same qualities that had led me to him in search of the swing were the same ones that made him attractive to sponsors. Lonnie Nielsen, raised in Iowa, adopted by western New York, is a good guy. During his twenty years at the Crag Burn Club in East Aurora, he tore up the local PGA circuit, made PGA Cup team, and constantly factored in the Club Pro championship. He also established himself as the finest teaching pro in the area, simply because he had “been there,” there being the PGA Tour, and knew what it took for amateurs of every level to improve (trust me, the two don’t always go hand in hand.)
So who do I root for next year? Lonnie, of course. He didn’t finish with the 65 that helped him so much at Q-School last year. He took enough strokes the previous weeks to secure his positon. Who gets my heartache award? Tom McKnight and John Harris. McKnight used to come through western New York to play the Porter Cup as a mid-am. He qualified throught the tour school last year, and held a spot in the top twenty five until Sunday afternoon. It was then that R.W. Eaks posted a third consecutive round in the sixties at the SBC Champipionship, finished T4 with Quigley, and claimed the final spot in the top 30. My hope is that McKnight acquired the same support as Lonnie, and will be able to count on exemptions to buoy his status as 1st non-exempt player. McKnight is the answer to a great trivia question: who in the top 30 in Charles Schwab Cup points is not in the top 30 on the Champions Tour? Kind of stinks that he won’t be able to improve on his status this week. The other ache is for John Harris, who began the final week in 34th spot, but recorded only 62 strokes from tee to green on Friday. Seemingly set on securing an exempt spot for the 2006 tour, he fell to a 72-76 finish to end 33rd on the money list. Another former Porter Cupper, Harris is a member at Augusta National, a well-off, hard-working guy, and will be back.
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Thank you very much!
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