Dick Pfeil doesn't know how good he is
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
At 3 a.m. on the night after Dick Pfeil shot a nine-birdie, no-bogey 63, he bolted out of a sound sleep, turned on his nightstand light and stared at his scorecard. As sleep became wakefulness he wasn’t sure if he’d shot 63 to win the Gateway Senior or if he was having a really good dream. It was a reasonable question. His best score ever was a 65, and at 61 years old, he was an unlikely candidate for a personal best. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and 18 greens. Only one birdie putt was longer than 20 feet. He wasn’t a star. He questioned his state of consciousness. This was, after all, the stuff that dreams are made of. Eight days later, Pfeil shot a bogey-free 66 in the final round at the Golfweek National Championship to win from 10 behind. He’d slept soundly that night.
Until then, Pfeil’s resume wouldn’t have looked different than 300 other seniors or super seniors. He’d been a good, but not great, player. His biggest achievement in golf before 2007 was spending two years on an excellent Arizona State University golf squad. After graduating from ASU with a business degree, Pfeil moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and took a job as a pit trader at the Chicago Board of Trade, later founding his own firm.
Pfeil was a good country club golfer during his working years. He mainly played club events, occasionally qualifying for a Wisconsin Amateur, Open or Mid-Amateur, but he never made much of a mark. Through 2011, he has won 48 club championships. The one most treasured is his 15th win at Big Foot Country Club. His father, also a fine golfer, had won 15 Big Foot championships. Dick’s 15th victory was the last time he’d play in that tournament, out of respect for his father.
After retiring, Pfeil had time to improve his game. Like most champions, he’s driven, but he didn’t start with the ambition to be one of the country’s top seniors. His path to becoming a premier player was not paved by devoting himself to practicing eight hours a day, and working with an elite teacher, mental coach and fitness guru. In 2007, at age 57 his curiosity and observance helped him elevate his game at a time when most his age are headed down the escalator.
“I’ve always been interested in the process of improving my game, rather than in any end goals,” says Pfeil. By talking to and watching how other players hit shots, putted and scored, Pfeil mined for information to use in improving his own game. He isn’t shy about approaching total strangers. “Golfers are nice people. No one has ever said get away from me, I don’t want to talk.”
One of these conversations led to Pfeil’s winning the two tournaments in Florida. “I saw Charlie Busbee practicing chipping at Old Corkscrew. I had no idea who he was, but I went up to him, told him I have the chipping yips and asked how he chipped. Charlie couldn’t have been nicer. Over the next two tournaments, he spent six hours working with me. And it’s helped!” said Pfeil appreciatively. He won the next event at Gateway and again at the Golfweek National after skipping Kingsway.
When asked to compare his game with his contemporaries he says he’s about average - a humble assessment. Indeed, Pfeil has yet to arrive; he’s still in the process of improvement.