2005: Perspective - Shed no tears for the Everyman
Monday, September 19, 2011
St. Andrews, Scotland
The small bookish-looking man walked into the tavern of the Scores Hotel and announced, “I’ll have a beer.”
Whoa. I figured him for a glass of milk. Or maybe, pursuing a wild urge, a diet soda.
He had a neat mustache and academic eyeglasses. He looked very proper. He could have been an accountant, a librarian, or perhaps an absent-minded professor.
He was, in fact, the holder of a major golf championship for seniors.
It was Thursday of British Open week. Less than 100 yards away, golfers were still playing. Pete Oakley, the Delaware Dandy and at the time the reigning Senior British Open champion, had just signed for an 81. Go to the range and hit balls? Naw. He had another strategy: Go to the tavern and drink beer.
The 56-year-old Oakley wasn’t the oldest player in the field – Jack Nicklaus was 65, and Tony Jacklin was 61 – but he was the oldest triathlete in the field. Oh, you didn’t know about the British Open triathlon? That’s golf, beer drinking and story telling.
Oakley is the Everyman. He goes through what we go through. After he won the Senior British, his clubs were lost by the airline.
At the Old Course, he was living the dream for many of us – a largely unknown golfer playing in the Open Championship. “Who is that?” spectators would ask. Few knew the answer.
The Everyman danced with the dream in July 2004, at Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush, where he won the Senior British Open. He outdueled Tom Kite and Eduardo Romero by one stroke with a courageous 12-foot par putt on the 72nd green.
He did more than dance. He went home with the dream, and, for a year, he romanced it. That’s what major champions do.
And then he returned to real life, which is a combination of bills to pay and bogeys to overcome. On his way to St. Andrews, his clubs were lost again by the airline.
Oakley shot 81-78 at the Old Course. Then, in defense of his Senior British crown, he drove up the road to Royal Aberdeen, where he faltered with 82-80 in extremely windy conditions. He couldn’t keep his ball on planet green. We all know how that goes.
Oakley reflects the heart and soul of ordinary golfers everywhere. He isn’t famous. He doesn’t fly in a private jet. He doesn’t get preferred starting times. People don’t stop him on the street. Autograph seekers don’t holler his name.
He doesn’t care.
“I’m the luckiest guy I know,” he said. “I’m at St. Andrews. I’m playing golf. The heck with the score. Life is good.”
The Everyman lives the quiet, anonymous life of a golf lover who is able to support himself – barely, at times – by playing golf. His major sponsor is a tiny apparel company called Mad Golfer.
“Golf has been everything,” said Oakley, reminiscing about his life in golf. His father, Hal, was a U.S. Air Force dentist. His mother, Dorothea, insisted that he play golf. He still pictures her swing “as if she was right here beside me.”
For the Everyman, family golf bonds run deep. He and his older brother, David, played golf as kids in Falls Church, Va. They ended up together on the European Seniors Tour, where David has won four times, and they will be united there later this summer.
When Pete won the Senior British, David was captured by a television camera, crying beside the final green. A few months later, David was approached by a man in Switzerland. “You’re the brother of the guy who won the senior tournament,” the man said. “I saw you crying on television.”
It didn’t take long for David to improvise his response: “Yeah, I was crying because he just passed me on the Order of Merit (money list).”
When Pete won the Senior British, he was awarded a one-year exemption on the Champions Tour. It ran from the 2004 Senior British to last week’s Senior British, meaning he never had a full calendar year in which to bolster his position on the money list.
He has played every single week.
“I had my chances,” he said. “I missed the reshuffle (which would have made him exempt for the duration of the 2005 season), but I don’t blame anybody but myself. I haven’t played well this year.”
He finished 49th on the 2004 money list with $342,990. In 2005, he has won less than $125,000.
So he plans to return to the European Seniors Tour, where he earned a five-year exemption with his 2004 victory. He will be accompanied by the woman he is engaged to marry, nongolfer Lucilia Csihas because the Everyman has found his Everywoman.
“She plans to caddie for me,” Oakley said. “There aren’t really professional caddies over there, anyway. Just a bunch of bag toters. She and I will be a good team.”
Oakley’s life has been flush with golf. He went to the University of Florida, where he made birdies on the golf course and double bogeys in the classroom. He turned pro and began a 35-year odyssey in which his identities have been mini-tour player, club pro, teaching pro, and 15 percent owner of a golf facility called The Rookery outside Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Along the way, he was a four-time winner of the Delaware Open and played in six PGA Championships and three U.S. Opens.
Four times he tried to qualify for the Champions Tour. Four times he didn’t make it. But he never lost sight of the dream.
And then he scored big.
“I won a major championship,” he said, as if to remind himself. “Isn’t golf the greatest game ever invented?”
Yes, it is. Golf has a knack for making everyone who plays it feel like an owner. Right now this is Pete’s Game we’re talking about.
He drank his beer. He looked around the tavern. Nobody knew him. He didn’t care. He was the Everyman, soon to be married and soon to play as many senior golf tournaments in Europe as he chooses.
Life is very good.