U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Minnesotan Teal Harbors Hometown Hopes August 26, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Dave Shedloski

Jeff Teal, of Excelsior, Minn., a former pro hockey player, is competing in his first USGA championship since the 1987 U.S. Amateur. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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For the last two years, Jeff Teal has played in the Minnesota Public Golf Association’s match-play tournament, which provides him just enough competition to remind him that the unpredictability of the format tends to level the playing field.

That’s what he is hoping for this week when he tees it up on a much bigger stage. The former NHL center, who long ago got a taste of national golf competition and now is ready for more, is among the 156 players in this week’s 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship underway at The Minikahda Club. He started off the 10th tee at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Saturday.

Teal, 55, last competed in a USGA championship in 1987, the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Glenview Golf Club in Cincinnati. The year before that, he played in the U.S. Amateur at Shoal Creek in Alabama, where he made the cut but lost in the first round of match play. A fellow competitor this week, Stewart (Buddy) Alexander, won that championship.

“That was like another lifetime ago,” Teal said, recalling his early forays into competitive golf, including a one-year stint as a professional playing the mini-tours. “Thirty years is a long time. I had to look it up.”

Teal, who lives in nearby Excelsior, might not have ended the drought had it not been for the fact that it is being played in his home state and on a course with which he is familiar. Minikahda has hosted a few state amateurs in which Teal has competed, so he figured if he could manage to get through a sectional qualifier, then perhaps he could enjoy a deep run in the championship proper.

“I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a shot,” he said.

And one shot was the difference for him when he carded a 3-over-par 75 on July 24 at Wayzata Country Club to finish in a three-way tie for third and earn one of the five berths. Teal bogeyed five of his first 10 holes and was still 5 over par when he came to the short par-4 14th hole. After a good drive, Teal knocked in a sand wedge from 75 yards for an eagle, his only hole under par for the round.

“Nothing was happening, but my interest perked up when that shot went in,” Teal said. “I still thought I needed another birdie, and when I didn’t get it I was just hoping for a playoff. I thought some guys would pass me. That’s how it always works. But no one did, and the math worked perfectly.”

 

 

Teal was a standout high school golfer who played both golf and hockey at the University of Minnesota. The latter sport won out at first as he played as a freshman on the Gophers’ NCAA championship team in 1979. Two years later Minnesota finished runner-up.

He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, playing center and wing, but he played in only six NHL games in four seasons as a professional, garnering one assist. He described himself as “a mucker and a grinder” as a hockey player, and that sort of player isn’t in high demand, he discovered.

So he segued into golf, but after a year in the minor leagues of that sport, he gave it up. He’s been an insurance agent for 23 years, and didn’t pick up a club for much of that time as he dedicated himself to raising a family. But he never lost the itch – or the knack – for the game, and in recent years has competed in state events during the summer.

Of course, a national championship is something different. And, then again, it isn’t. Good play translates into success at any level.

“The key is the first two days,” Teal said of scoring among the top 64 to reach the match-play portion of the championship. “I have a basic strategy for how to get around the golf course, and I know it fairly well. I certainly feel like it’s in me to play well enough to get into match play. And once you get that far, who knows. Anything can happen. You see it all the time.”

Scheduled to begin his opening round at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Teal wasn’t feeling nervous as he prepared for his first national championship in three decades.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about anything. It’s just neat to be a part of it,” he said.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.Teal was a standout high school golfer who played both golf and hockey at the University of Minnesota. The latter sport won out at first as he played as a freshman on the Gophers’ NCAA championship team in 1979. Two years later Minnesota finished runner-up.

He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, playing center and wing, but he played in only six NHL games in four seasons as a professional, garnering one assist. He described himself as “a mucker and a grinder” as a hockey player, and that sort of player isn’t in high demand, he discovered.

So he segued into golf, but after a year in the minor leagues of that sport, he gave it up. He’s been an insurance agent for 23 years, and didn’t pick up a club for much of that time as he dedicated himself to raising a family. But he never lost the itch – or the knack – for the game, and in recent years has competed in state events during the summer.

Of course, a national championship is something different. And, then again, it isn’t. Good play translates into success at any level.

“The key is the first two days,” Teal said of scoring among the top 64 to reach the match-play portion of the championship. “I have a basic strategy for how to get around the golf course, and I know it fairly well. I certainly feel like it’s in me to play well enough to get into match play. And once you get that far, who knows. Anything can happen. You see it all the time.”

Scheduled to begin his opening round at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Teal wasn’t feeling nervous as he prepared for his first national championship in three decades.

“Honestly, I’m not worried about anything. It’s just neat to be a part of it,” he said.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

 

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