2006: Hoosier Bell rings up home victory

Paradise, Ind.

Mike Bell won the 2006 USGA Senior Amateur at Victoria National Golf Club outside Evansville, Ind., to become the first home-state player to capture the championship since Bill Shean Jr. of Hinsdale, Ill.,

did it at Skokie Country Club near Chicago in 1998.

Bell, the No. 1-ranked senior amateur in the Golfweek/Titleist national rankings, lives in Indianapolis. He beat 55-year-old Tom McGraw of Montgomery, Texas, 1 up in the final.

The match was all square heading to the 18th hole, where Bell got up-and-down for par from a greenside bunker – sinking a decisive 8-foot putt – and McGraw left a 50-foot chip shot 15 feet short, then failed to make the putt.

Bell, 59, looks boyish and gentle. He is skinny with a radiant smile. At heart, though, he is a tough guy.

When Bell faced double-bypass heart surgery in 2003, he told his wife, Trish, he would become a better person if he made it through the ordeal.

Not only did he become a better person, he became a better golfer.

“I guess I became more determined,” Bell said after beating tournament favorite and co-medalist Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., 4 and 3 in the quarterfinal round. Simson, 55, was coming off a victory at the British Senior Amateur.

The minimum age for the USGA Senior Amateur is 55. Defending champion Mike Rice of Houston, who won the title in 2005 at age 65, lost in the first round, 2 and 1, to Terry Tessary of Collinsville, Ill.

Back in 2003, Bell the tough guy played golf two months after bypass surgery, defying the advice of his doctor. Less than a month later, he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open.

When 2006 arrived, Bell was playing the best golf of his life.

“Yes, he has worked very, very hard on his golf game,” said his wife, “but golf no longer dominates everything else in his life. He’s a lot more relaxed about things. Just being alive is good, you know?”

Winning golf tournaments is good, too. Bell has won eight senior titles in 2006. In addition, he qualified for his third U.S. Senior Open.

“It was a marathon out there (eight rounds of tournament golf in six days),” McGraw said. “I was tired, and I couldn’t find a golf swing. I played well in all my matches until this one (the final). But I sucked it up, and I could have won.

“In fact, if I had made the 3-footer at 11 and the 3-footer at 17, the match would have been over right there.

“But he hit the ball better than I did all day. And he made the last putt. He deserved to win.”

McGraw lost the first two holes of the final, leaving his ball in a fairway bunker at the first and three-putting the second. He was 3 down until he made a 22-foot birdie putt at 10 to cut the margin to 2 down.

On the par-3 11th, he stuck his tee shot close, but failed to touch the hole with his 3-foot birdie putt. However, he won the 12th with a par and the 15th with a birdie to square the match.

On the 16th tee, Trish Bell approached her husband and put her arm around his shoulders.

“You’re playing well,” she said. “Don’t get down on yourself. Just play the game.”

With the match still even at 17, Bell missed a 7-foot par putt. McGraw then missed from 3 feet. The 18th hole was an intimidating 405-yard par 4 around a lake.

“I was thrilled to be in that bunker,” Bell said of his approach shot. “That (second) shot was

just about impossible. It was downwind, and it would have been very difficult to hold the green.

I would rather play from the sand than chip the ball, so I was overjoyed with the result.”

So were 500 Indiana golf fans who showed up to watch their home-state boy win.

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