- Pennsylvania Golf Association photo
has followed a circuitous route in pursuit of his golf ambitions. He didn’t start playing the game until he finished college, at 30 he was a U.S. Mid-Amateur finalist. He played professionally for four-and-a-half years, but decided his heart lay in the amateur game.
Today, at 53, the reigning Pennsylvania State Golf Association Player of the Year is in transitional mode. The only USGA senior event he is eligible for is the U.S. Senior Open but PSGA senior events are open to players age 50 and up. So, Stimmel will be in the field for the inaugural Pennsylvania Senior Open which is set for Monday and Tuesday, May 10-11 at Lehigh Country Club in Allentown.
“At 53 years old I feel more comfortable being able to tee it up with the mid-ams,” Stimmel said. “Twenty-five and older, I can hang with those guys.”
Stimmel, who plays out of Diamond Run Golf Club in Sewickley, Pa., grew up and still leaves near Pittsburgh. His grandparents were members at Laurel Valley Country Club when he was growing up but his own athletic interests leaned toward baseball and wrestling.
Apart from occasional trip to the driving range while he was in college, he didn’t pick up a golf club until he reached adulthood. He soon joined a private club and met future U.S Senior Amateur champion Sean Knapp
. The two became fast friends and have been regular golfing partners ever since, including two appearances as partners in the U.S. Amateur Four Ball.
Stimmel says playing regularly with people like Knapp and Nathan Smith
, a fellow Pittsburgh area resident and a five-time USGA champion, accelerated his maturity as a golfer, on the course and off.
“You can watch what guys like him have done over the years and you learn from that,” he said. “How they manage their way around the golf course and as far as being a human being too. You see how people manage themselves in golf and the way they go through life and you learn from it.”
Stimmel got his first tournament experience playing in small local events before being encouraged to enter a U.S. Amateur qualifier in 1993. At the time, he had virtually no knowledge of the inner workers or structure of amateur golf.
When he won medalist honors in his 36-hole qualifier he thought he had won the U.S. Amateur. Instead, he was told ‘We’ll see you in Houston’ (at Champions Golf Club).
“Getting to a U.S. Amateur was certainly a step up,” Stimmel recalls. “That was kind of my wakeup call to see what I could do and achieve throughout the rest of my career.”
In 1996 Stimmel captured his only Pennsylvania Amateur title. The following year, he reached the finals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Dallas Athletic Club. The Mid-Amateur champion traditionally receives an invitation to the following year’s Masters. With six holes remaining in the scheduled 36-hole match he had a 2-up lead over Ken Bakst
“That’s when it hit home,” Stimmel recalls, ‘I could get an invitation to the Masters.’”
He was unable to hold onto his lead however; Bakst birdied three holes down the stretch to win the match 1 up, receive a Masters invitation, and become part of the narrative of John Feinstein’s book The Majors.
Three years later, he made his only U.S. Open appearance to date, at Pebble Beach where he was part of the B Flight; i.e. everyone in the field not named Tiger Woods, who won by 15 shots.
By this time, Stimmel was a professional. He gave up his amateur status in 1999.
“I had a couple guys approach me who said ‘We’d like to back you and see what you can do to take this to the next level,’” he said.
Stimmel decided to give himself three years to find success as a professional golfer. His backers got a return on their investment as Stimmel had some success on the Hooters Tour, competing against the likes of Zach Johnson, Ben Curtis, Chad Campbell, and Vaughn Taylor, along a few appearances on what was then the Nike/Buy.com Tour plus one PGA Tour start.
“Those were the guys I played with every week in practice rounds,” he said.” Day in and day out I could compete with and beat those guys, but for some reason, when it would come to Q-school or stuff like that, they would be able to make it through to the next level; I struggled. That was a little bit of a wakeup call for me.
While Stimmel eventually gave up his ambition to reach the PGA Tour, he continued to play in open events, working a playing schedule around a sales job. In 2010, he applied for reinstatement as an amateur; He was formally reinstated just in time for qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Amateur.
Stimmel admits he would have liked to have given his quest for professional success a bit more time, but he’s enjoying his ‘second career’ as an amateur. Last year, despite not winning a tournament, he was the Pennsylvania State Golf Association’s Player of the Year. He shared second place in the state amateur and placed second at the R. Jay Sigel Match Play Championship.
“It wasn’t so much that I shocked myself,” Stimmel said, “I just put a little more attention into my golf game.
“With Covid, I was working from home a lot (Stimmel is a medical sales representative) so I had a little bit of extra time to play and practice. I just noticed that what I put into my golf game paid off, because all of a sudden I’m competing against a bunch of college kids and I felt very comfortable.”
Not that competing against players less than half his age is an easy task.
“It’s hard to compete against high school and college kids that have been playing non-stop since last year,” Stimmel said. When I got down (to the Azalea Invitational I had only played two rounds of golf for 2021. Your expectations are minimal (Stimmel missed the cut).
Stimmel has already been to the winner’s circle once this year. He captured the Dressler Memorial Championship
the last week of April and is looking forward to what the rest of the season brings.
“Who’s to say a 53-year old that works for a living can actually compete with these guys” he said, “but I guess at the end of the day, the golf ball doesn’t know how old you are.”
“Close to Home” is an exclusive on-going feature of AmateurGolf.com and profiles some of the top amateur players in specific regions of the country.