OMAHA, Neb. – By the time George Forster returned to his hotel room Friday night, his cell phone was flooded with congratulatory text messages and voicemails.
Forster, the head professional at Radnor Valley Country Club in Villanova, Pa., since 1984, had finally made a 36-hole cut in his eighth appearance in a senior major championship.
“My goal was always to make the cut in one of these things,” said Forster, 57, who posted rounds of 70-73 at Omaha Country Club to survive the 36-hole cut at the 2013 U.S. Senior Open by two shots. “Last year [at the Senior PGA Championship] at Benton Harbor, I missed by a shot. I was really disappointed.”
Forster, a four-time Philadelphia Section PGA Senior Player of the Year, was one of two club professionals to qualify for the weekend at the Senior Open, joining Walt Chapman, 51, of Knoxville, Tenn., who has been a teaching professional at Fairways and Greens Golf Center for the past 14 years.
Both players struggled in the third round. An eagle at the par-5 sixth got Forster to two under early, but he struggled over his final 12 holes and settled for a 5-over 75. Chapman failed to live up to his facility’s moniker, hitting just six of 13 fairways and seven of 18 greens in carding a 79.
This week, Forster, who missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Senior Open, was supposed to be assisting with the Ladies Member-Guest event at the club. He’s been helping from afar, but his membership encourages him to stay competitive.
The tough part for Forster is adjusting to the crowds and the big-name competitors, many of whom he’s idolized for many years. Forster has won 60 Philadelphia Section PGA events, including the 1999 Philadelphia PGA Section Championship, but none of those was played in front of 30,000 spectators.
“Just to rub elbows with those guys; you’re out on the range with them,” said Forster of being in a field that includes Hall of Famers such as Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Hale Irwin. “It’s a totally different environment. It takes some getting used to.”
Forster briefly thought about trying for his PGA Tour card while he was a student at Philadelphia University in the mid-1970s. When he realized his game didn’t stack up, he went the club professional route. He first took an assistant pro position at Sunnybrook Golf Club in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., before he landed the head pro position at Radnor Valley, where he is entering his 28th year. Radnor Valley recently awarded Forster an honorary membership.
When Forster returns home on Sunday night, he will have to juggle catching up on business at the club with his plans to play in a section event on Monday, as well as the Philadelphia Open on Wednesday at Waynesboro Country Club.
But he would much rather be doing that than trying to make a living on the Champions Tour.
“When you turn pro and start to see how good everybody is, I knew I was in the right business,” said Forster, whose oldest son, also named George, has been an assistant pro for five years at Merion Golf Club, which hosted last month’s U.S. Open. “I can’t imagine doing this for a living. I know I have a very good check waiting for me at home. The pressure to make money out here [on the Champions Tour] would be enormous. I don’t think I could handle it.”
Chapman, meanwhile, enjoyed a locker next to the 2012 U.S. Senior Open winner, Roger Chapman (no relation). On Saturday, the volunteers confused the two, giving Walt Chapman’s caddie the defending champion’s strip for the back of his bib, even though Roger had missed the 36-hole cut.
Unfortunately for Chapman, he struggled with his ball-striking after shooting 69-73 the first two days. Chapman spends the majority of his time giving lessons and fitting golf clubs at the members-only practice facility in Knoxville. He gives 800 to 900 lessons per year at the 25-acre facility, which includes a fitness center and an 18,000-square-foot indoor practice area.
When Chapman, who qualified for the 1986 U.S. Open and the 1994 and 1996 PGA Championships, does play, it’s usually in two-day Tennessee PGA Section events or 18-hole recreational rounds.
“I was actually more nervous the first day,” said Chapman. “But today, for some reason, I just didn’t drive it well. I wish I had played better. But that’s the way it goes.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer at the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.