Kohler, Wis. - Jim Rollefson had to draw the line somewhere.
"I'm for Wisconsin, but not when they play Marquette," he said Tuesday to a local fan following his practice round Tuesday on The Straits Course at Whistling Straits. This fan in particular screamed out that he loved Rollefson's University of Wisconsin head cover.
Rollefson, born in Oconomowoc, Wis., and who now resides in New Berlin, is a dedicated alumnus of Marquette University in Milwaukee. He attended Marquette's school of dentistry and received an advanced degree in pediatrics. As an undergraduate, he attended Luther College in nearby Iowa. Nevertheless, he displays the state university in his bag.
Rollefson had many locals following him during his second practice round as he prepared for the Senior Open. He has a bit of a cult following, after all. Why? Because Rollefson is one of one of two Wisconsin residents in the field, along with 2004 USGA Senior Amateur champion Mark Bemowski.
"It is an honor to be able to be a player here in my home state," he said.
Rollefson's path to the Open started just a hop, skip and a jump away from Whistling Straits at Pine Hills Country Club in Sheboygan June 8.
"It just happened to be in this area," he said. "It was just luck."
Rollefson shot a 75 in his qualifier but noted the poor weather conditions, saying that it was exceptionally windy, which caused the scores to be high across the field.
"I had a good attitude while playing," he said. At the end of 18 holes, after he missed a birdie on the 10
thhole and bogeyed the 17
th, he found himself with the 75 and in a five-man playoff for two spots. He said that he had been in playoffs before and it may have benefited him.
"I made it my goal to get a par on the first hole," he said.
And that's exactly what Rollefson did.
"It was a great feeling making that putt," he said. He sunk a 4-footer for par on greens that were exceptionally fast, allowing him to qualify with Peter Krause of Eden Prairie, Minn., a teaching professional at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., and Windsong Farm Golf Club in Independence, Minn.
"I knew I was in when I made that put," he said. "It was emotional. I get emotional just thinking about it."
Getting into the Open was easy for Rollefson compared to the open-heart surgery he had when he was 12. He was
|Said Jim Rollefson, practicing Wednesday: "It is an honor to be able to be a player here in my home state." (John Mummert/USGA)
diagnosed a heart defect when he was only six months old and explained that his family always knew that someday he would have to have surgery.
"For some reason, God wanted me to keep living, so I am here," he said. Not only has Rollefson found athletic success recently, but he also played semi-professional baseball in the Land 'O Lakes League as a pitcher and shortstop in his late teens and 20s.
Because of his experience, he wants to reinforce that heart patients can live healthy, normal and vigorous lives. "If people don't know (about the heart surgery), I'll tell them. I want to spread the word around that you can have heart surgery and still live a full life," Rollefson said.
At the present, Rollefson has a new foe to fight, the challenging course and field of gifted players at the Senior Open.
"The course is hard and now I know it is hard because I played with pros both days of practice rounds who agreed, "Rollefson said.
He noted that although he is from Wisconsin, he has only played the course a total of four times. Even so, "I have
a good idea of what I'm going to do â€¦ I am going to try to play as good as I can," he said.
With gobs of people, who either know him personally or have read about him in the local media, Rollefson hopes to impress them. More important, he wants to make the cut in order to make it into the USGA Senior Amateur.
His oldest son, Ryan, 27, hopes to give his father an edge as caddie.
"He's not a professional caddie," Rollefson said. "But he is used to high end pressure situations."
Rollefson hopes to perform well in the first round. He goes off at 9:05 a.m. with fellow competitors Michael Harrigan and Ron Vlosich.
Thus far, as a specialized dentist who serves as a diplomat on the prestigious Pediatric Board of Dentistry, and as a talented golfer, he has certainly defied low odds thrown his way. What's more, he has also proved that people with health issues can excel in a variety of aspects of life.
As he made his way along the course Tuesday, another fan called out "You were my kids' dentist."
Clearly, in terms of support, Rollefson has the home-field course advantage.
Mary Kate Brennan is an intern for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.