BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Blake Humbles is having more fun driving a golf ball than driving the back of a fire truck.
Until recently, that seldom was the case.
A former University of Nebraska golfer, Humbles wrapped up his first appearance in a USGA championship by shooting a second-round 81 on Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course. Combined with a disappointing 83 on the Weyhill Course in Saturday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying, Humbles finished the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur at 22-over 164, well off the score necessary to qualify for match play.
I’m disappointed in my golf, but I’m not disappointed in the experience, said Humbles, 35, a firefighter from Ontario, Calif. I knew this was going to be awesome and it has been. It’s over the top. I’m just sorry it’s over so fast.
Humbles qualified for the Mid-Amateur by converting eight birdies in a 3-under-par 69 at Bear Creek Golf Club in Temecula, Calif. That effort was part of a recent stretch of good form that saw Humbles finish third in the Inland Empire Amateur and lose a three-man playoff at the Inland Valley Amateur.
I’ve been riding a pretty good wave lately, said Humbles, who also recently tied his career low of 64 a few weeks ago at Goose Creek Golf Club in Jurupa Valley, Calif.
The ride comes after falling off the golf bandwagon following his career at Nebraska. Humbles said his goal while playing junior golf in Southern California was to compete at the collegiate level. But squaring off against the likes of Hunter Mahan and other future PGA Tour players left him under no illusions about his future in the game.
In fact, following college, Humbles eschewed golf altogether.
I felt a little bit burned out, he said, not attempting to sound ironic.
Instead, he applied for firefighter training, but he had to sweat out the qualifying. He won the lone spot among 500 applicants. Talk about playoff pressure.
Trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) as well as a firefighter, Humble’s primary job is tillerman, the person responsible for driving the back of a fire truck – which is different from a fire engine. The fire truck has a 100-foot aerial ladder on it. To say that he enjoys it is an understatement.
If you ask me, in the fire service, it is the best job, he said. It’s hard to explain, but you’re in the back there up high, you have a steering wheel and a headset, and it’s kind of a rush. You’ve got to be on your game making those turns on those California streets. Basically, you have to turn the opposite direction of the driver. It’s so much fun. I love it.
He also loves talking about the two babies he’s helped deliver.
Everyone wants to ask me about the bad stuff, he said. I’d rather talk about something that’s fun, because we see too many bad things happen.
Compared to those dramatic experiences, a 3-foot putt doesn’t seem important. But trying to make them again has become enjoyable.
We work 10 24-hour shifts, so, basically, I’m afforded 20 days a month to work on my game. I get enough practice in, he said. I’m really enjoying it a lot. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. But I have a feeling that time is going to be curtailed a bit here.
Humbles’ wife, Libby, is expecting the couple’s first child, a boy, in November. The couple met at Nebraska, where she competed on the gymnastics team.
She was a better gymnast than I was a golfer, Humbles said. You figure with our athletic backgrounds, hopefully that produces a really good, athletic young man. Certainly, maybe a really good golf partner.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.