When Jim Saivar steps up to the tee Saturday for the first round of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship on Long Island, he’s pretty sure he knows what he’s going to hear. He’s prepared for it. In fact, he’s probably going to revel in it a little bit.
“Are you caddying for your son?”
That’s when Saivar gets to smile and say he’s one of 264 starters in the field in Bridgehampton, N.Y., thank you very much.
Considering Saivar’s age and the odds, it is an impressive accomplishment.
Saivar, of Point Loma, is 65 — the oldest player in the tournament by two years. If this were the U.S Senior Am, which accepts players 55 and older, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
But 30 years ago the U.S. Mid-Amateur was inaugurated so that post-college golfers would have their own national championship. Competitors must be 25 or older to play, and the field is generally packed with top-notch golfers in their 30s and 40s.
Saivar didn’t even begin playing competitive golf until his 50s.
“I’m one of the few guys who can get better with age instead of worse,” Saivar said, laughing.
What makes reaching the Mid-Am all the sweeter is that Saivar had tried without success to qualify for at least 20 USGA events. He had a hard-luck time of it, once losing out for a U.S. Senior Amateur spot when a competitor birdied the last three holes to knock him out.
This time, it was Saivar breaking somebody else’s heart in the Aug. 30 qualifier at the Sycuan Resort. Saivar birdied the last two holes — both from about 15 feet — on the Willow Glen course to shoot 1-under 71 and tie three others for second place. USD coach Tim Mickelson, a Mid-Am quarterfinalist in 2007, was the medalist with a 70.
Sergio Reyes of Lakeside, Scott Stratton of Rancho Santa Fe and Robert Funk of Canyon Lake tied with Saivar, while Dan Chappelle of Santee earned the final spot by prevailing in a three-man playoff.
When Saivar finished with players still on the course, including outstanding La Jolla amateur Harry Rudolph III, he was convinced he would somehow lose out. When his score held, “I was ecstatic,” he said.
“This was my ultimate goal — to play in a USGA event.”
Saivar, a real estate developer, grew up in Los Angeles , with baseball as his first sporting passion. He dabbled in golf, but didn’t get serious about it until well into his working life. He whittled his handicap down to mid-single digits after becoming a member at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in 1988, but it was a pairing with Gary McCord in a Buick Invitational pro-am in the mid-’90s that got him thinking about being more ambitious.
Saivar said McCord, the CBS commentator and former announcer, offered him this backhanded praise: “You hit the ball pretty good. If you had any clue about the short game, you might be able to play golf.”
Duly motivated, Saivar sought out the first serious golf lessons of his life, going first to former PGA and Champions tour pro John Schroeder and later to Stadium Golf’s Gary Griggs, who remains his instructor.
Saivar completely rebuilt his swing, and in ’99 he won the first of his three Fairbanks men’s club championships. He also added three club senior titles.
“More than anything it’s learning to have a short game and how to hit the ball consistently,” Saivar said. “I think I’ve proven that you can get better as you get older, if you work hard at it.”
The oldest player to capture the Mid-Am championship was George Zahringer, who was 49 in 2002. Saivar has no designs on such a feat. The host course, Atlantic Golf Club, is a gorgeous Rees Jones design. But it’s also demanding and long, stretching out to 7,300 yards.
“It’s going to be a lot of driver-3-woods for me,” said Saivar, who hits the ball about 240 yards off the tee.
“I don’t have any grandiose ideas,” he added. “All I want to do is be competitive. I’m just going to be happy to be there and do the best I can.”
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur begins Saturday at Wichita (Kan.) Country Club, and San Diego’s representatives are Carlsbad’s Corey Weworski and Vista’s Lisa Walker. Weworski was exempted into the field as the 2004 champion, while Walker was the medalist with a 73 at the Aug. 30 sectional at Pauma Valley.
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