Orlando, Fla. – Chip Lutz walked past Rick Woulfe near the bag storage area at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on Monday afternoon to offer his congratulations when a quick exchange broke out.
How many holes did you play? asked Woulfe.
Just 18, said Lutz with a laugh.
That was a sprint compared to the marathon Woulfe endured in the first round of match play at the 2010 USGA Senior Amateur Championship.
The 60-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., needed 25 holes to outlast Christopher Veitch of Newport Beach, Calif. It was the longest Senior Amateur match in 23 years and was only two holes shy of the all-time championship record.
Even a good friend texted Woulfe with a quick message: It’s about (expletive) time.
Woulfe needed a chip-in par at the 21st hole just to keep the match going. He got up and down for par at the 24th hole before Veitch drew a bad break at the par-4 25th hole. His ball stopped inches shy of a greenside bunker and his recovery from an awkward stance flew well past the flagstick. Woulfe comfortably two-putted from 12 feet to secure the victory.
That was a good match, said Woulfe, adding that he had never played a match longer than 20 holes. He played good. I played good. It’s a shame one of us had to lose.
Woulfe, a civil trial lawyer, is no stranger to the big stage. This is his 20th USGA championship and 12th since 1999. He also was a college All-American golfer at Michigan State University in the early 1970s. But the four-time Florida Senior Player of the Year has never gone past the third round at the Senior Amateur.
He also knows the clock is ticking on his chances to win this championship.
Yeah, there aren’t many years left, said Woulfe, noting that Marvin Vinny Giles won the title last year at 66. I can continue to kid myself that when I am 67 and 68 I can still hit it just as far. The time is coming short.
Woulfe grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, but chose to attend Michigan State because of a scholarship offer. Golf powers Florida and Houston wanted him to earn his way to a scholarship, but Woulfe’s father, a graduate of Stanford and Northwestern Medical School, told him if he failed to make the team, he wasn’t going to pay for his education at either school. He could go to Georgia Tech or Rice in the South, or accept an offer from a Midwest university.
So while most northern kids go south to play warm-weather sports like golf or tennis, Woulfe did the opposite.
Going through rush in the fraternities I would introduce myself as Rick Woulfe from Florida, he said. They would ask, ‘What are you up here for?’ I told them golf. They would go, ‘What?’
And golf didn’t have the funding to hire its own conditioning coaches, so Woulfe and his mates worked out with football and baseball players. Future Major League Baseball star Steve Garvey was one of the trainers.
He would tell us what weights to lift, said Woulfe. He was the guy who ran our training sessions.
After completing his eligibility in 1971, Woulfe hung around an extra year to graduate and figure out his career options. He spent the summer of 1972 competing in amateur competitions and despite posting good scores, he would always finish behind guys like Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw. Woulfe quickly figured out that professional golf wasn’t an option. So he went to law school at Washington & Lee and returned to Florida, where he now has a thriving practice with seven other attorneys.
He also gave up competitive golf from 1972-82 to concentrate on his career and family. Then in 1983, he discovered the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship and got back into playing again. Seven years later, he joined the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Committee, where he continues to serve as a volunteer. He attended last week’s championship at Atlantic Golf Club before returning to Florida.
The Florida State Golf Association also started adding more competitions to its calendar and Woulfe, now with a little more time, began playing more and more. He was named the FSGA’s Player of the Year in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
When he turned 48, some friends tried to convince Woulfe to enter Champions Tour qualifying. But a 30-minute conversation with Jim Holtgrieve, a good friend and the winner of the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur, changed his mind.
I found out it wasn’t going to be a whole lot of fun, said Woulfe. After talking to Jim, I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do.
And Woulfe couldn’t be happier. His law firm is doing well right along with his golf game. He qualified for the 2001 U.S. Senior Open and this is his fourth Senior Amateur. He’s also represented Florida three times at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
The only thing missing is a trophy. Then again, if he makes it to Thursday’s final, he will find himself in a dilemma.
I’m supposed to be in Sarasota conducting a mediation, he said. Now I’ve got the impetus to find someone else.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.