By JAMES ACHEBACH
Golfweek Senior Writer
FT. MYERS, Fla. (Jan. 15, 2009) -- As the 2009 national senior amateur tournament schedule started with January’s four-event Florida Swing, former pro Gary Strickfaden of Pinehurst, N.C., turned a few heads by winning the first two tournaments.
In each event – the Riverwood Senior Invitational and the Gateway Senior Invitational – Strickfaden edged Paul Schlachter of Bridgeville, Pa., by one stroke.
The annual schedule includes more than 40 tournaments, all of them designed for amateur golfers 55 and over.
Despite Strickfaden’s heroics, it was a handful of golfers in the super senior division (65 and over) who attracted even more attention.
Paul Cobb Jr. of Norcross, Ga., tied for sixth at Gateway with rounds of 73-73-76. Cobb, by the way, is 78 years old.
“I didn’t play tournament golf until I was 63,” Cobb said. “I think I’m getting better.”
Perhaps he is the Benjamin Button of senior amateurs, getting younger by aging in the opposite direction.
Bob Hullender of San Antonio, Texas, broke his age in four of the six rounds at Riverwood and Gateway. Hullender, 71, shot two separate 69s at Riverwood and two 70s at Gateway.
Moving on to the third tournament of the Florida Swing, the Kingsway Senior Invitational on Jan. 11-13, Ray Darmstadt of Yonkers, N.Y., won the Super Senior division by breaking his age for three consecutive rounds.
Darmstadt, 74, shot 71-72-72. His 215 total was four ahead of Russ Berkoben of Perrysburg, Ohio, and six in front of Hullender.
It was sweet revenge for Darmstadt, who three-putted the 54th green to lose the 2008 title by one stroke to Hullender.
“I played very steady,” said Darmstadt, who was mad at himself for bogeying the final two holes of the tournament.
The overall title at Kingsway went to former U.S. Senior Amateur champion Mike Bell of Indianapolis. Bell staged a monumental comeback to defeat Bill Zylstra of Plymouth, Mich.
Zylstra was the 2008 senior amateur national champion, accumulating more points throughout the year than any other player. At Kingsway, though, he faltered unexpectedly and badly.
Opening the 54-hole event with two 67s, Zylstra was eight strokes ahead of Bell, who shot 74-68. To start the final round, Zylstra went par-birdie while Bell stumbled with par-double bogey. The margin was 11 strokes with 16 to play.
Somehow Bell won. Although Bell shot a 2-under-par 34 on the back nine, he received enormous help from Zylstra, who fell apart on the par 5s.
On the par-five 10th hole, Zylstra hit a wedge shot that landed short of the green and rolled back into a water hazard. He took a double bogey 7.
Later, on the par-5 15th, Zylstra hit two balls into the water and took a quadruple bogey 9.
“He’s a great player,” Bell said. “Opening with 67-67 was phenomenal. It just shows you that anybody can run into trouble.”
Kingsway Country Club, located near Punta Gorda, Fla., in a small community called Lake Suzy, remained a huge hit among players. The semi-private layout debuted in 2008 on the senior amateur schedule.
“You’ve got to play some golf here,” Bell said. “It will test you.”
Don’t tell that to Darmstadt and the other golfers who are obliterating their ages in competition. Going under their ages on the national senior amateur tournament schedule is just another achievable challenge to these remarkable golfers.