Greg Condon looks like the quintessential muni golfer.
During the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, he showed up at Soldier Hollow Golf Course for his second-round match against T.J. Vogel pushing his own trolley and wearing aviator sunglasses, white socks with black shoes, beige shirt with khaki pants, and a beige cap that read C&L Container Co.
Although he looked out of place among the well-dressed collegians who made up the vast majority of the field, Condon very much would have fit in at Soldier Hollow, a state-run facility the other 51 weeks of the year. In fact, an observer seeing Condon pushing his cart across the parking lot thought to tell him that the course was closed for a national championship.
Of course, Condon, 50, fit in just as well at Soldier Hollow this week as he does back at the nine-hole Monte Vista (Colo.) Golf Club in his hometown, where the 18-hole green fee, with cart, is $25. After defeating 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Chelso Barrett, 6 and 5, Condon took University of Florida All-American T.J. Vogel to the brink, losing 1 down in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning.
"That was an incredible performance," said Vogel, who advanced to the quarterfinals in the afternoon. "I can’t say enough about the guy. I didn’t expect him to play that well."
Condon putted very well, applying a lot of pressure on Vogel, who consistently outdrove him by 60 yards. After Condon nearly made a 20-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, an awed Vogel remarked: "You’ve been scaring the hole on every putt."
Replied Condon: "I’m trying. I’m trying."
It is easy to underestimate Condon, whose appearance, dress, lack of distance and aw-shucks attitude mask a dogged competitive spirit and work ethic. The manager of a company – C&L Container – that distributes potatoes from the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, Condon works on his golf game whenever he can.
"You’d be surprised by how much I play," said Condon, who grew up Cypress, Calif., the same hometown as Tiger Woods, before moving to Colorado with his family when he was 17. "If my wife was sitting here, she’d say, ‘That’s all he does.’
"To play at the level of these kids, I have to be up at 5:30 in the morning during the summer, work at eight, get off at five, then play until the sun comes down."
Condon plays most often with his son, Luke, a sophomore on the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs golf team. A reinstated amateur who took a break when his children, Luke and Arika, were born, Condon credits his son’s interest and development in the game for spurring his recent success in tournament play, especially in Sun Country Amateur Golf Association events.
"Since school got out, he’s whipped me, seven or eight times," said Condon, who qualified for match play in the 2010 Public Links but lost in the first round. "For a long time, he’d get nervous around 14, 15 and blow it. But he’s gotten to the point where he understands that you have to stay focused until the end. And he can do it."
The gregarious Condon has left his mark at Soldier Hollow. After losing to Vogel, Condon made the 100-yard walk from the 18th green to the clubhouse. Along the way, many of the volunteers he had befriended asked him how he had played. Condon had a smile and a positive word for each.
"It’s been a great time with all these people," said Condon, who faced a 10-hour drive home. "I was serious; I never, ever for one split second gave up. But I can still be happy, and have the right attitude."
Although many losers left immediately following their matches, Condon was looking forward to watching fellow Sun Country Amateur Golf Association player Sam Saunders, of Albuquerque, N.M. Saunders also lost in the second round, but Condon still stuck around and watched the exciting Round-of-16 match in which Carlos Rodriguez beat Michael Kim on the 20th hole.
Condon was wistful when talking about Saunders, whose father, Dave, was caddieing for him. It reminded Condon of his hopes for Luke.
"He tried to qualify for this," said Condon, who shot 139 to beat his son by nine shots in the Public Links qualifier at Desert Greens Golf Course in Albuquerque. "It’s time for him to be here, and for me to be caddieing for him."
When told that he shouldn’t hang up the clubs just yet, Condon replied, "You think I still got a couple of years left?"
If Condon continues to play as well as he did at Soldier Hollow, he has many more years left of surprising opponents.
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at email@example.com.