Flagstaff, Ariz. (Sept 12, 2006) -– Jeff Wilson remembers the time in June 2000 when he shared center stage with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open trophy presentation.
Woods had just blown away the field to win by 15 strokes, but in the midst of the commotion Woods took the time to turn a congratulate Wilson, who had earned a medal for being low amateur in the field, albeit some 32 strokes behind Woods.
“He took the time to genuinely recognize me and made me feel so good about my achievement,” says Wilson, 43, of Fairfield, Calif., who won his second round match Tuesday morning against Trip Kuehne, 34, of Dallas, Texas, 3 and 2.
“I still get phone calls when they show the highlights from that tournament,” says Wilson, with a big smile. “Every time he raises that trophy, I’m just behind his right shoulder.”
Wilson will now face Dave Womack, 27, an insurance agent from McDonough, Ga., in his afternoon match.
The fact that Wilson knocked off the accomplished Kuehne, the 1994 U.S. Amateur runner-up to Tiger Woods and two-time Walker Cupper, really isn’t a major surprise. Wilson has had his share of success in past Mid-Amateurs.
He twice was a semifinalist, in 2001 and 2002, both times losing to the eventual champion. And he was the medalist for the two rounds of stroke-play qualifying in 2000 and 2001.
That’s when he admits he was playing his best. In fact, he had hopes of being considered for the Walker Cup team, but just didn’t have the time to travel to enough high level national competitions to get noticed.
Now he’s back in high gear after missing last year’s Mid-Amateur because of a work conflict. He was successful in qualifying in get into the field, something he hadn’t had to do for several years because of earning exemptions with his high finishes. And his game is good enough that he might be playing at the Canyon Course at Forest Highlands Golf Club for the next few days.
Some 20 years ago, Wilson was an All-American golfer for the University of Pacific. And he had aspirations for playing golf for a living. He played on the PGA Tour in 1990, and then played on what is now the Nationwide Tour in 1992 and 1994. But by 1994, he had had enough.
“I bailed halfway through the 1994 season,” said Wilson. “And once you admit it to yourself, you might as well hang them up.”
In fact, he did hang them up. He didn’t play at all for almost a year. It was only at his friend’s urging that he applied to re-gain his amateur status.
“He wanted me to be his partner in some four-ball tournaments at home,” said Wilson.
His friend knew that Wilson could still make his share of birdies.
“My game’s not as sharp, but my attitude’s a hundred percent better,” he says. “I could throw in the towel quicker than anybody back then. The bad shots are still disappointing, but they don’t matter as much.”
He now is married with two children. He works as the general sales manager at his parents’ car dealership in his hometown. But, he’s still interested in playing top-notch golf. A probable chance to play in the next Masters Tournament by virtue of winning this week’s Mid-Amateur is always on his mind.
- story courtesy United States Golf Association, US Mid Amateur website