Brian Tennyson has seen his fair share of success since launching his golf career to national status in the early 1980s. The Fullerton, Calif., resident competed in more than 26 countries and produced several wins, including the 1983 Philippine Open and 1987 India Open.
During a 10-year period from 1987-97, the 50-year-old Tennyson qualified for five U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships and was invited to the 1991 Masters, where he finished T-22. He also was the runner-up at the 1990 Bob Hope Desert Classic (now Humana Challenge) and the 1998 Hardees Golf Classic (now John Deere Classic).
Prior to turning pro, the former Ball State golfer was a semifinalist in the 1984 U.S. Amateur Public Links and a two-time participant in the U.S. Amateur (1982 and 1983).
But after missing the cut at the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Tennyson hung up his clubs, so to speak. He took a decade-long hiatus from professional golf, just 16 years after bursting onto the national stage.
In fact, the first time Tennyson reunited with the USGA was nine years later at the USGA Senior Amateur at Victoria National in Newburgh, Ind. But the then-44-year-old didn’t participate as a competitor, but as a member of the championship committee, serving as general chairman Keith Bratton’s right-hand man.
“I helped with a lot of fundraising and organizational things like that because we ran our event a little bit differently than most events would typically be run at that level,” said Tennyson.
The Senior Amateur didn’t re-ignite Tennyson’s passion for competition, although he did get his amateur status back two years later.
So why would Tennyson file an entry for this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur?
The answer: Nothing more than a whim.
“It’s kind of interesting, the company I was running out here in California got sold so I have time now,” said Tennyson. “I’m in between employment and literally I was just sitting on the couch and thought, ‘You know the Mid-Am is probably coming up. I wonder when the qualifier is.’ So I logged on the computer, saw the deadline for entry was [approaching] and I thought, ‘Hey, why not enter.’ ”
Tennyson qualified for the Mid-Amateur at Glendora (Calif.) Country Club, firing a 71 to earn the fourth and final spot into the championship, which will be held Sept. 8-13 at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. The nearby Knollwood Club will serve as the companion stroke-play qualifying venue. Tennyson’s appearance will be his first in a USGA championship since the 1997 U.S. Open.
“I don’t play any individual competitions and haven’t in a long, long time so it was a different feeling for me to go out and play my own ball,” said Tennyson. “Eighteen holes without anybody there as a partner, having to finish every hole … it was really fun for me to put myself in that situation, mentally and emotionally.
“Having to tough it out and make the tough pars and make a birdie coming down the stretch; it was all very satisfying to do that again after such a long hiatus and perform well enough to get through.”
Fifteen years removed from the professional game and the PGA Tour, Tennyson is no longer as serious about golf than he once was. The Mid-Amateur will be his first individual competition in more than a decade. If he plays at all these days, it’s usually in charity scrambles or best-ball events.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is often referred to as “the working man’s championship,” and with Tennyson’s current employment status, he undoubtedly holds an advantage; though not the one you might think.
With newfound time on his hands, one would assume Tennyson would spend most of his days at the course, or maybe a driving range, but he said he still only plays about once a week.
“It is definitely easier mentally more than anything else not to have to juggle work and golf,” said Tennyson. “When you’re working [full-time] at the level I was, your mind is always full of all these things you have to do. So now my mind is much clearer these days than it would have been a few months ago. And that’s a big advantage on the golf course, probably the biggest advantage.”
Yet, with Tennyson’s lack of practice and admittedly little preparation for this championship, a relaxed attitude can only propel him so far against elite competition. Tennyson’s approach is nowhere near as serious as it once was, even though he’s made triple the tee times since his company was sold.
“I play purely for social reasons and I think the biggest difference will be that when I’m out on the course [at Conway and Knollwood,] there will be a lot of people that are really serious about their golf game and really serious about the competition, and I’ll just be playing golf,” Tennyson said.
Like most golfers who have qualified for this year’s Mid-Amateur, Tennyson’s primary goal is simply to make match play. However, physical issues could be the biggest obstacle that keeps him from being one of the 64 match-play participants out of the 264-player field.
“I have a lot of neck and back issues so I’m concerned with how my body is going to hold up and what it’s going to be able to do just in the qualifying rounds, much less if I had to play 36 holes in a day,” said Tennyson. “But I certainly think that its realistic for me to qualify for match play so that’s my real goal … and just see what happens from there.”
Fifteen years away from elite-level golf has given Tennyson some perspective on life and the game. Without the worries of playing for a paycheck or a livelihood, his outlook is calm, cool and collected. But could Tennyson’s indifference for practice prove to be his downfall?
Only time will tell.
Kelly O’Shea is the USGA’s online summer intern. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.