Robert Polk (CGA photo)
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (Sept. 13, 2018) – As chairman of the CGA Tournament Committee, Robert Polk
of Colorado Golf Club often has the duty of presenting trophies to winners of CGA championships, particularly when it's a senior or super-senior event in which he's competed.
On Thursday, that could have been a dilemma.
You see, Polk won the 47th CGA Senior Amateur at Eisenhower Golf Club, so it would have been a little awkward for him to give the trophy to himself.
Fortunately, another member of the CGA board of directors, Gary Albrecht, was also on hand, so he did the honors.
"We always try to have a board member on hand," Polk said. "I've handed out trophies way too many times. I wanted to win. That was always painful.
"The older I get, the winning is wonderful but it means you didn't lose. I take losing so much harder now, and I lose obviously a lot more than I win. It takes me a while to get over it. I think, 'I left so many shots out there.' You'd think I wouldn't take it so hard. But to get it done is very exciting."
Thursday's victory marked Polk's fourth in the CGA Senior Amateur, which puts him in some elite company. Only three other players have captured the title at least four times -- Larry Eaton (a seven-time champion), John Olive (five) and Les Fowler (four). All three are members of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.
"It feels wonderful to have won this again," said Polk, who has captured 11 CGA championships in all. "Those are great players (who have claimed four or more Senior Am titles), and to be mentioned with them is very, very pleasing and satisfying."
Bill Fowler, who has won CGA Senior Four-Ball titles with Polk two of the last three years and who finished third on Thursday, can appreciate what Polk has accomplished in the Senior Am.
"He's a great player," said Fowler, a former CGA president. "He could have won way more than four (titles in this event). He sometimes gets in his own way.
Today he stayed out of his own way. He played really well and I'm really proud of him and I'm happy to be his Four-Ball partner."
Polk won this event previously in 2005, '07 and '09, meaning he ended a nine-year drought on Thursday. In doing so at age 63, he became one of the oldest champions of the CGA Senior Amateur. Les Fowler won at age 65 in 1989, Jerry Kidney at 63 in 2011 and Harry Johnson at 63 in 2013.
"It has been so long since I've won this thing -- it seems like forever -- so I'm extremely pleased," Polk said in accepting the trophy on Thursday.
"It's wonderful, just wonderful. For the last nine years I didn't know if it was going to happen again. I came close a couple of times and had a good chance last year, then couldn't get it done. Today I just said, 'I'm going to get it done.'"
Polk was technically a wire-to-wire winner this week, but despite his five-stroke victory margin, the tournament was deceptively close down the stretch. In fact, with three holes remaining, he was tied with 2017 champion Steve Ivan of Patty Jewett Golf Course. But Ivan bogeyed two of his last three holes and Polk finished with a flurry.
He hit the par-5 16th in two with a 7-iron from 197 yards and sank a 7-foot putt for eagle. Then on the next hole, a par 3, he hit a 9-iron from 164 yards, with his ball landing right next to the hole and ending up less than 6 inches from the cup for a birdie. That stellar two-hole stretch, plus making three 5-foot par putts, left him 3 under for his final six holes.
"It's just fun and gratifying" to finish strong for the victory. "It means an awful lot. Last year I gave away the Florida Senior Stroke Play (title). I had it won, but shot 41 on the back and lost by one. I said, 'I'm not going to let that happen this year. I'm going to bear down and play a decent back side.'"
On the formidable Blue Course at Eisenhower that was made tougher by wind much of the week, Polk closed with a 2-under 70 -- the low round of the tournament -- to post a winning total of 1-over 217. Only two sub-par rounds were carded at the Senior Am, and Polk had both of them.
Ivan recorded a 72 on Thursday to place second at 222. That means he's been runner-up in both CGA senior majors in 2018 -- the Senior Match Play and Senior Amateur -- and that's he's finished first-second-second in the last three senior majors.
"I played well today, but I bogeyed two of the last three. You can't do that," the 56-year-old Ivan said. "What I really wanted to do today -- and I did it for a long time -- is because I wasn't in that last group, I wanted to have them see me making putts after putts after putts. It worked until I ran out of gas at the end. But (Robert) deserves it."
Fowler, the 2015 Senior Amateur champion, recorded a 76 on Thursday to check in third at 224. John Hornbeck of Saratoga, Wyo., the 2018 CGA Senior Match Play champ, placed fourth at 225, also after a 76.
"I didn't have my 'A' game the whole tournament so it was going to be a struggle to beat Robert, who obviously played very well," Fowler said. "So to finish third and play as well as I did while not really hitting it the way I wanted, I'm very pleased.
"(Robert) birdied 2, 3 and 4 today and I knew there was no catching him. He made a couple of mistakes in the middle, then finished strong."
Thursday's victory by Polk looked improbable as recently as a few weeks ago, when he finished a distant fourth in the CGA Super-Senior Stroke Play. But in the interim, a short break from the game seemed to work wonders.
"I was so dejected after the Super-Senior Stroke Play at Perry Park. I was hitting some really good ones and getting nothing out of them," Polk said. "My mind wasn't right. I needed to take some time off. I took four or five days off and kind of got cleared out again. I played with Jim Pierce -- I won my first (CGA Senior) Four-Ball with Jim (in 2005) -- last Saturday, and the light kind of went on. I felt good coming into this tournament for the first time in I can't remember when."
And though there were some hiccups in the middle of Thursday's round -- a double bogey on No. 9 after a bogey at No. 8, then a missed par putt after a stellar drive at No. 12 -- but he righted the ship and more down the stretch.
"I missed that putt (on 12) and said, 'God bless it. It's those par putts that you have to make on the back nine. You look at all the major championships and all the amateur events, whoever makes par putts on the back nine wins -- every time.'"
And sure enough, Polk drained par putts of 5 feet on 14, 15 and 18, sandwiched around the eagle on 16 and the tap-in birdie at 17.
And judging by the way he bombed some drives on Thursday, you'd never guess that Polk is 63 years old.
"I've been very fortunate health-wise," he said. "I do an awful lot of working out. I have a great workout guy, Dee Tidwell, who's kept me stronger and flexible. I went to him five years ago and said I don't care about hitting it any further. I just don't want to start hitting it shorter. Let's fight this as long as we can. And I'm as long as I've ever been -- still. But I hadn't been able to put anything together."
Until this week, that is.