SEASIDE, Calif. — Jeff Coston turned professional 35 years ago, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how many practice balls he’s hit or how many lessons he’s given.
“But if I were ever to come out with a book,” says Coston, now a teaching professional in Blaine, Wash., “it wouldn’t be about golf instruction. It would be a book of stories.”
And he’s got a million of them.
Who wouldn’t when you’ve played on the PGA Tour and its minor-league Hogan and Nike Tours, qualified for 15 regular-tour or senior major championships and pulled off the rare accomplishment of playing in a Senior PGA Championship and PGA Championship in the same year.
At the 45th PGA Professional National Championship at Bayonet and Black Horse, Coston is leading the charge of players in their 50s. After a 2-over-par 74 in the third round on Tuesday, he was well behind the leader but safely inside the top 20 positions that qualify for August’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
“I have no idea about that,” said Coston, a former Pacific Northwest PGA teacher and player of the year. “I’m just trying to play golf like Jeff Coston. Last year I was 16th or something like that, but I never thought about the PGA Championship. I just thought about playing golf. I feel like that’s the best thing because when people start thinking about, ‘Hey, I get into the PGA’ or this, that and the other thing, they get in their own way. They get attached to the outcome and what could be. I’m just trying to play golf, make some birdies and have some fun, still tryin’ to do it at 56 years old.”
Modern-day technology might be the greatest advantage for senior players, but Coston “is still an old-school guy” by his own admission. He still swings blade irons and doesn’t carry a hybrid.
“I’m trying to look like I’m in my 30s from the neck down,” he says. “I work out, I’ve been chasing my wife around the house for 35 years. It’s important for me to be a golfer; it’s important for me to be fit, and I want to teach and play the game as long as I can. My goal is to play into my 70s and play good golf.”
That would also be beneficial for grill-room and practice-range stories, such as Coston’s favorite.
“My first year on Tour was 1985, and on Saturday at one tournament my standard-bearer was a 15-year-old kid named Phil Mickelson. No one knew he was going to be Phil Mickelson, right? So you have these young people that carry your sign, they’re nice and you move on and live your life. Someone once told me that on ‘Inside the PGA Tour’ in the early ‘90s, someone asked Phil Mickelson when he knew he wanted to play the PGA Tour, and he said, ‘Well, in 1985 I was the standard-bearer for Chris Perry, Steve Pate and Jeff Coston. I knew I wanted to be on the tour then.’
“And then in 1996 I met him; I was doing an outing with Tom Lehman and Rick Fehr. Phil remembered me and this was, what, 11 years later? That freaked me out. And at the 2005 PGA, at Baltusrol, in the player’s dining area, we’re sitting at a table next to Phil and I went over to say hi. ‘Phil: Jeff Coston.’
“And he said, ‘Mr. Coston, you never have to tell me. I’ll never forget who you are.’ And last year at the PGA, he’s walking down one fairway and I’m going down another right next to it and he comes over, grabs me by the shoulders and says, ‘Mr. Coston, you’re still doin’ it, aren’t ya, Jeff? I’m proud of you.’ ”
With any luck at Wednesday’s final round of the PNC, Coston will hold his standing and earn his way to another PGA Championship, where he and Mickelson can renew acquaintances once again.