Jay Haas has won 18 times on the PGA TOUR Champions. Three of those victories have come at the Principal Charity Classic. Now he’s back for a 12th consecutive season. His competitive trips to Iowa have covered 47 years.
RB: You were medalist in the 1971 Western Junior at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. What do you remember about that event?
JH: I grew up in Southern Illinois (Belleville), so I drove up there. I remember a par-3 on the back nine, kind of a semi-island green (No. 13). When I came back years later to play in the Amana VIP, I felt like I was at home. I don’t even know what I shot (69-72). I won a couple of matches, then I lost. At that age, young players can’t believe they lose. I was one down going to the last hole, and had to hole a bunker shot to win. I didn’t. And I remember riding up that tram (to the 14th tee). I’d never done that before.
RB: Tom Purtzer finished second in the qualifying, and Craig Stadler and Fuzzy Zoeller were also in the field.
JH: The year I played? Seriously? I didn’t know any of those guys back then. Junior golf, and amateur golf, was much more regional then.
RB: Now you’re back in Iowa as your PGA TOUR Champions career winds down. How long do you plan to keep on playing?
JH: Somebody asked me that the other day (at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship). I was feeling good about things. I had just shot 1 under (70). The next day I shot 3 over and missed the cut. I’ve had enough decent rounds this year to tease me enough to want to continue to do it.
RB: When do you think you’ll know when it’s time to say goodbye?
JH: I’ve always said that I don’t want to just be in a tournament to say I’m in a tournament playing on tour. Shooting 74, 75, 76, I don’t want a steady diet of that. I don’t love golf enough to do that. I played a terrible tournament in Birmingham, Ala. (Regions Tradition). I never play that course well. If somebody has said, ‘Sign here and you’re done,’ I probably would have signed. If I’m playing my best and shooting 74, 75, 76, and that’s the best I can do, I don’t want to do that.
But I was tied for the lead in Atlanta (Mitsubishi Electric Classic) with four holes to play. And I don’t think I was playing my best. If I play my best, I still think I can hang in there, and I love the competitive aspect of golf. I need the adrenaline rush now to do it. I can’t just go through the motions.
RB: But at some point, you’ll know.
JH: I’ll have a moment where I’ll just say, ‘That’s it. I’m done.’ I want to give myself to the end of this year to see how it shakes out.
RB: You won three times at Glen Oaks Country Club (host course of the Principal Charity Classic from ’01-’04 and ’06-’12), but Wakonda Club must feel familiar to you in some ways.
JH: The course I grew up on, St. Clair Country Club (in St. Louis), was designed by the same guy (William Langford) who designed this course. The terrain is hilly there. Not as hilly as this. But I had to learn to play uphill, downhill and sidehill lies, which I think is great.
RB: You won the NCAA title in 1975 (playing for Wake Forest). We had a guy from West Des Moines (Broc Everett of Augusta State) win it last week.
JH: A lefty. I watched it. His first college tournament win ever. Very cool. My son, Jay Junior, went to Augusta State.
RB: Do you get a bounce in your step every time you return to play in the Principal Charity Classic?
JH: Yes, great memories here. I’ve got a fraternity brother (from Wake Forest) who lives here. Jimmy Jenkins. He’s a member at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. I always have dinner with he and his wife (Pamela).
RB: You need to win about $17,213 this week to reach a million in earnings at the Principal Charity Classic.
JH: Hopefully I win more than that.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Bernhard Langer is trying to stay ahead of Father Time and catch Hale Irwin.
Don’t count him out.
Langer recorded the 37th victory of his PGA TOUR Champions career at the Insperity Invitational last month. Irwin’s record of 45 victories, once considered untouchable, now seems within Langer’s grasp.
The two-time Masters champion, 60, returns to the Principal Charity Classic and Wakonda Club this week with a chance to get one step closer to Irwin’s milestone.
On the eve of last year’s Principal Charity Classic, Langer looked to be chasing an uphill dream. He had 32 victories at the time.
Asked if he had a chance to catch Irwin, Langer said, “I might have a shot but it’s very unlikely.”
But after getting himself in contention at Wakonda and ultimately finishing fourth in Des Moines, Langer caught fire. He won four more times in 2017, with three of those victories coming after he turned 60 on August 27.
In addition to his recent victory at the Insperity, Langer has lost in a pair of playoffs this season and also finished second to 2015 Principal Charity Classic champion Mark Calcavecchia at the 2018 Boca Raton Championship. Twelve of his 37 victories have come since 2016.
Langer’s first two appearances at Wakonda, however, didn’t suit his taste. He tied for 31st in 2013 and 48th in 2015. But his 66-71-67 effort in 2017 shows that he might have figured out Wakonda’s old-school challenges.
Langer enters tournament week second on the PGA TOUR Champions money list, with earnings of $860,321. He’s won more than $2 million in each of the last six seasons.
This year’s Principal Charity Classic will include 42 of the season’s top 50 money winners, including Jerry Kelly (No. 3), Gene Sauers (No. 7), 2016 Principal Charity Classic champion Scott McCarron (No. 8) and David Toms (No. 9).
In addition to Langer and Calcavecchia, 2018 tournament winners in town will include Kelly (Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualulai); Scott Parel (Diamond Resorts Invitational), and Steve Flesch (Mitsubishi Electric Classic).
Brandt Jobe, the defending Principal Charity Classic champion, also returns and will attempt to join Jay Haas as a repeat winner. In 2017, Jobe shot rounds of 67-66-69, including a birdie on the final hole of the final round. That enabled him to finish one shot in front of McCarron (67-70-66), his college roommate at UCLA, and eventual Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland (66-69-68).
Joining Jobe, McCarron and Calcavecchia as former Principal Charity Classic champions in the field are Russ Cochran (2013), Jay Haas (2007, 2008, 2012), and Tom Pernice, Jr. (2014).
Meanwhile, Langer will see if he can sneak a bit closer to history at Wakonda. The reigning PGA TOUR Champions Player of the Year already created some buzz earlier this season.
When Langer won the Insperity Invitational last month, it marked the 12th consecutive season in which he’d won at least once PGA TOUR Champions event – an unprecedented feat.
Langer had shared that record with one other player who won at least one tournament for 11 consecutive seasons (1995-2005).
His name was Hale Irwin.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Iowa native and longtime Des Moines-area resident Chad Proehl, 50, is set to make his PGA TOUR Champions debut at the 2018 Principal Charity Classic.
Proehl, who received a sponsor exemption for this year’s tournament, is the 2017 Iowa Section PGA Champion and a three-time Iowa PGA Player of the Year (2010, ’12 and ’16).
Currently the teaching professional at Sugar Creek Municipal Golf Course in Waukee, Proehl began his club professional career in 1990 at Wakonda Club, host course of the Principal Charity Classic.
RB: What was your reaction when you found out you were receiving a sponsor exemption to play in this year’s Principal Charity Classic?
CP: It was two Fridays ago (May 18). When I got that call, it was pretty cool.
RB: You have some TOUR experience, playing in the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities (on the PGA TOUR) three times, and as the 2017 Iowa Section PGA champion, you’re qualified for that event again in 2018. How does that experience help?
CP: I’ve always loved to compete. There are a lot of good golfers in our Iowa Section. This is a whole different deal. But I’m looking forward to the challenge – and I know it’s a huge challenge for me. It’s not like it’s old hat or anything like that. The first John Deere (in 2008), I was so overcome with nerves I didn’t know how to deal with it. So hopefully I’ve learned a little bit along the way, and I can do a better job this time.
RB: And you did make it to the finals of PGA TOUR Champions qualifying last year (at TPC Scottsdale in December).
CP: I got through the initial stage, so that felt great. Then I moved to a stage where guys who had actually made the TOUR but didn’t make the Top 35 were back qualifying. I’m watching these guys make putts, like 12-footers, 20-footers. And I’m wondering how to make a 6- or 7-footer. To be honest, I hit the ball well enough to be competitive. But I didn’t putt the ball well enough to be competitive. And that really showed up.
RB: Are you going to try and qualify again this year?
RB: Your golf career started at the Wakonda Club (in 1990). How did that happen?
CP: My college coach at Grand View University was Jack Webb (an Iowa Golf Hall of Famer and a head pro at Wakonda for 19 years). He said, ‘If you want to get in this business, let me make a phone call.’ He called Terry Beardsley (then the head pro at Wakonda). And the next thing I know, I had an assistant’s job.
RB: Wakonda is an old-style golf course with character. You’ve played it a lot. What are your impressions?
CP: There are a lot of things I like about it. Some people don’t like it because of all the hills, and blind shots, and trees. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, but I love that stuff. I love the uneven lies and having to shape shots. It is an old-style course, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The greens are fast and the rough is long. Unfortunately. More than anything, it’s where I started.
RB: And this will be a home-course advantage for you as far as the gallery, too.
CP: This will be the first time when I get to have my wife and son and daughter all there watching me. My parents and in-laws, too. Plus, all the friends I’ve come across over the years. It’s going to be fun.
RB: Who is going to caddie for you?
CP: My son (Jordan, 19). I can’t wait for him to be there with me. I’m going to love that.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Defending tournament champion Brandt Jobe, who earned his first career PGA TOUR Champions victory at the 2017 Principal Charity Classic, will be joined in the field of 78 competitors by the following:
Past Principal Charity Classic champions Scott McCarron (’16), Mark Calcavecchia (’15), Tom Pernice, Jr. (’14), Russ Cochran (’13) and Jay Haas (’07, ’08, ’12).
Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters Tournament champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member. Langer has 37 career PGA TOUR Champions victories, the second-highest total in TOUR history (Hale Irwin leads with 45). This year will mark Langer’s fifth trip to the Principal Charity Classic, where he finished a career-best fourth in 2017.
Corey Pavin, winner of the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and captain of the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Pavin, who has 15 career victories on the PGA TOUR, last played at the Principal Charity Classic in 2014. His wife, Lisa (Nguyen) Pavin, grew up in Urbandale, Iowa, and is a University of Iowa graduate.
Lee Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open champion and past winner of the PLAYERS Championship. Janzen, who was born in Austin, Minnesota, made his first Principal Charity Classic appearance in 2017.
Perennial fan favorites Fred Funk, Tom Lehman, Jesper Parnevik, David Toms and Billy Andrade, who set the current Wakonda Club course record (63) during the second round of the 2016 Principal Charity Classic.
Kevin Sutherland, the 2017 Charles Schwab Cup champion. Sutherland finished T2 in his first trip to the Principal Charity Classic last year.
Jerry Smith, an Iowa native and 2017 Iowa Golf Hall of Fame inductee. Smith, who received a sponsor exemption to play in the 2014 Principal Charity Classic, went on to earn PGA TOUR Champions Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.
Also included in the 2018 Principal Charity Classic field are five players who received sponsor exemptions:
Brian Henninger, a two-time PGA TOUR winner and T2 finisher at the 2015 Principal Charity Classic. Henninger will be making his fifth appearance at Wakonda Club.
Len Mattiace, a 2018 PGA TOUR Champions rookie who won twice on the PGA TOUR during his career. Mattiace is often remembered for recording a 7-under 65 in the final round of the 2003 Masters Tournament to earn his way into a playoff with eventual champion Mike Weir.
Chad Proehl, an Iowa native and the 2017 Iowa Section PGA champion. Proehl, who is the current teaching pro at Sugar Creek Municipal Golf Course, in Waukee, Iowa, has lived in the Des Moines area for the past 33 years. Proehl began his club professional career in 1990 at Wakonda Club and has also worked locally as a golf professional at both Jester Park Golf Course and Echo Valley Country Club.
Mike Small, currently in his 18th year as head men’s golf coach of the University of Illinois, his alma mater. This Spring, he coached the team to its fourth consecutive Big Ten title. Small also has competed on the PGA TOUR and the Web.com Tour, is a three-time winner of the PGA Professional Championship, and in 2017, was named the Senior PGA Professional of the Year. Since turning 50, he has played in seven PGA TOUR Champions events.
Willie Wood, winner of two PGA TOUR Champions events – including a memorable victory at the 2012 Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, where Wood sank a 35-foot birdie at the end of regulation to force a playoff with Michael Allen. Wood will be playing in his eighth consecutive Principal Charity Classic.
Tickets to the Principal Charity Classic start at just $20 and may be purchased online at principalcharityclassic.com/tickets or at the tournament gates. Kids 15 and under may attend the tournament for free if accompanied by a ticketed adult. Complimentary admission is also provided for all active duty, retired, veteran and reserve military along with their dependents.
Ribeiro, a passionate golf fan and brand ambassador of the PGA TOUR Champions, will play in the Prairie Meadows Pro-Am on Wednesday, June 6, at historic Wakonda Club in Des Moines.
Ribeiro, 46, is perhaps best known for his role as Carlton Banks on the hit TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” as well as his work on the sitcom “Silver Spoons.” He won season 19 of “Dancing with the Stars” and currently hosts “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
A low-handicap golfer, Ribeiro is a frequent celebrity Pro-Am participant. This year marks his first appearance at the Principal Charity Classic – but far from his first trip to the state. Ribeiro’s wife, Angela (Unkrich) Ribeiro, is a native of Swedesburg, Iowa.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Nick Cecere grew up in Utica, N.Y., and started his professional career in upstate New York before his job took him to California. He came to Des Moines to work for Principal in 1996 and is now a senior vice president in charge of distribution. In August 2017, the former professional hockey player was named president of the Principal Charity Classic board of directors.
RB: How has hockey played a role in your life?
NC: I played college hockey at Elmira College. I left after my junior year to pursue professional hockey. I played two years and at the same time, worked on completing my degree (in economics from Utica College) during the summers. I wasn’t naïve enough to think I was going to play in the National Hockey League. But I had to get it out of my system.
RB: You’re still involved with the sport as a coaching director for the Midwest Amateur Hockey Association, an affiliate of USA Hockey. Why do you do that?
NC: That’s my give-back to the sport. Both of my sons played (NCAA) Division I hockey. Nick played at Niagara, and Garrett just finished at Northeastern. Both were captains of their teams. We’re hoping Garrett lands someplace in the American Hockey League next year. I was hoping the Iowa Wild here in Des Moines would give him a shot. And they still might.
RB: What is your favorite sports memory?
NC: This past February, Garrett’s team won the Beanpot Tournament in Boston. It had been 30 years since Northeastern had won that event. It was the most exhilarating experience, like winning a World Series.
RB: Is there a sports figure you admire most?
NC: Wayne Gretzky, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because he was good at hockey. It was the way he handled himself. He always had poise and character and confidence, and he was a guy who never big-timed anybody. I would also say Mario Lemieux. Probably the two best hockey players ever. I know both of them, and they’re the nicest people in the world. We don’t talk about hockey. We talk about our kids.
RB: What do you enjoy the most about Des Moines?
NC: Hands down, it’s the people. Great people. Friendly, honest. And our greatest friends are here. My wife, Barb, moved to Des Moines sight unseen. We love it here.
RB: Do you play much golf?
NC: I do. My golf swing is a hockey swing. From a driving perspective, I can hit the ball a long way with a short swing. Sometimes I’ll hit my 3-wood because I can hit it straighter. I play at Wakonda Club, probably 10 to 12 times a year.
RB: You also play lot of business golf. Do you find it true that you learn a lot about a person during a round of golf?
NC: Vey much so. I like to listen. I ask questions about people as a sales person. If people are going to buy something from you, they have to trust you. And if you’re spending four hours with a person on a golf course, you get to know them. You ask about their family and get them to talk about things that are important to them. I listen to their story. That’s the fun part about it.
RB: How did you first get involved with the Principal Charity Classic?
NC: I first got involved through the tournament’s Pro-Am, which is a great opportunity to bring business customers out to the course and have them play a round with a PGA TOUR Champions golfer. It’s an experience they never forget. And I’ve done that for about 10 years now. Last January, (Principal CEO) Dan Houston and (Principal CMO) Beth Brady asked me to join the tournament’s board of directors. And I became board president in August.
RB: You said it’s like a full-time job, but what are the rewards?
NC: A recent experience comes to mind. Variety – the Children’s Charity of Iowa is one of our Tournament Charity Partners, and they lead a program that donates specialized bikes to children with disabilities, as well as traditional bikes to children in need. In March, I was part of a Variety bike donation to a great family that lives in a small town near Iowa City. Their 10-year-old son, Landon, has faced a lot of challenges since birth. And Variety had customized a bike just for him. When his little brother rode it out to surprise him, his face just lit up. It was priceless. A few weeks later, Landon’s parents sent photos of the brothers riding bikes near their home. They’d never been able to do that together before.
RB: Was it an adjustment, stepping up to be the president of the board?
NC: I don’t get nervous about a lot of things. But I can tell you, when they said, “You’re going to be chairman of the board of this thing,” I started to sweat a little bit. Because when you look at the quality of leadership in that room, from Dan Houston to Suku Radia to Rich Willis – I could go right down the line. Everybody in that room is a mover and a shaker. And it’s intimidating.
RB: What is one of the first things you did?
NC: I scheduled a meeting with every single person on the board. I spent at least an hour with each of them. And I took my notebook with me, like a good salesman, and I asked a lot of questions.
RB: What kind of questions did you ask?
NC: I asked them all three questions. On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate this tournament from an event perspective? What do we need to do better? And what are we doing that’s working? I wanted to see if there was anyone on the board who didn’t want to be there. And every single one of them said, “Nick, I’ll do whatever you ask me to.” Everyone was committed to the tournament and to what it does for the community.
RB: As president of the board, what is one of your most important goals?
NC: One of my goals is to ensure that Principal isn’t just footing the bill for the tournament and putting in all the legwork behind the scenes. Same with Wells Fargo, our great presenting sponsor. We always want to get other people involved, other local leaders and businesses. This is a true community event – everyone is welcome and encouraged to get involved, in whatever capacity they can. The tournament currently has more than 350 sponsors, from small, family-owned businesses to large corporations. Hundreds of volunteers join us from local partners each year. And we’re really proud of that engagement. We’re excited to keep building on it.
Last year, the Principal Charity Classic raised a record amount for Iowa children’s charities. More than $3.5 million in a single year. Incredible. And the tournament has now raised more than $13 million since Principal became title sponsor in 2007. That level of giving wouldn’t be possible without community engagement and a shared belief in what the tournament is all about. As Dan Houston always says, “Remember, it’s about the kids.”
RB: Do you feel this event improves the image of Des Moines?
NC: All my friends, my mom, my in-laws back on the East Coast watch the Principal Charity Classic on the Golf Channel, and they say, “What a great town you have.” People here don’t necessarily realize the exposure our community gets as a result of this tournament. And that’s really important. Because it’s not only about helping kids. It’s about growing our community and being part of something special here.
RB: Would you say volunteers are an important part of the tournament?
NC: Absolutely. Think about 1,200 volunteers. That’s how many it takes to run the tournament. It’s a lot of people who volunteer their time – and not all the jobs are glamorous. They choose to give back at the Principal Charity Classic because they believe in the event and what it does for the community. They work hard and make every day fun. We’re so appreciative of their support.
RB: Is one of the challenges to bring new and different things to the fan experience?
NC: It can’t be déjà vu all over again. You’ve got to spice it up a little bit. When fans walk out of the gates, I want them to say to themselves, “That was a lot of fun. We got to watch some great golf together, right here in our community, and it was all for a good cause. We’re coming back next year.”
Located in St. Charles, the ranch welcomes boys and girls ages 8-18. Most arrive from places of abuse and neglect.
Wildwood offers structure and a chance to be successful through a 10-year leadership program.
“We’re helping kids develop spiritually as leaders and with life skills,” said Moeckl, Wildwood’s executive director. “The goal at the end of the 10-year commitment we make with our students is to have a clean hand-off to a two-year school, a four-year school, or directly to a career.”
“The funds we raise help us provide scholarships for more kids to come through our life-changing programs,” Moeckl said.
How it works.
Since Principal became title sponsor of the Principal Charity Classic in 2007, the tournament has raised more than $13 million for Iowa children’s charities – including a record $3,581,427 last year.
More than one-third of this total was generated through the tournament’s Birdies For Charity program, which gives Iowa non-profits with programming for children, as well as K-12 schools, a unique and risk-free opportunity to raise additional funds year-round.
Participating organizations and schools ask for donations from their supporters based on the number of birdies made by PGA TOUR Champions players during the Principal Charity Classic – for example, 10 cents per birdie.
Or supporters can make a one-time flat donation of any amount, at any time, throughout the year.
More than 100 non-profits and schools across Iowa currently participate in the program – and that number continues to grow each year.
Funding a second chance.
Anawim Housing has been giving citizens a second chance since 1987. A local leader in affordable housing, its mission is to build homes, hope and community.
“People don’t realize how large we really are,” said Tiffany King, Anawim’s director of advancement. “We own and manage more than 1,100 households in the Des Moines area, so more than 2,000 people call Anawim home.”
And Anawim’s mission is twofold.
“We started, over 30 years ago, providing safe and affordable housing for people who just needed it,” King said. “It’s not subsidized; it’s just a safe and affordable place to live. And then about 20 years ago, we started permanent supportive housing programs.”
Anawim does get funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but raises additional money because it is required to have a match – which Birdies For Charity helps fulfill.
Kate Rolfes, Anawim’s marketing and communication manager, said 64 percent of Anawim households are single mother-led, and more than 86 percent of Anawim units have at least once child living in them.
With the exception of the HUD-VASH program, which helps homeless veterans and their families sustain permanent housing, 88 percent of permanent supportive housing in Polk County is provided by Anawim Housing.
“These are individuals who are chronically homeless or families who are homeless living in their cars,” King said. “They come out and live at a unit that we lease and sublet to them. And it’s a chance for them to start fresh.
“We connect them to services. And now we have staff that are also case managers and working with these individuals to get back on their feet, reaching goals of self-sufficiency.”
The Dream Team is a five-month program that uses cycling as a vehicle for teenagers to build relationships, achieve personal goals and learn from adult mentors.
“Our primary mission is to help youth in the Des Moines area learn how to achieve goals to better themselves,” said Scott Garner, assistant director of RAGBRAI and a member of the Dream Team’s leadership board.
The program, aimed at boys and girls 13-18 years old, is goal-driven. It starts in February with indoor training at the Wellmark YMCA and ends at the Mississippi River with the completion of RAGBRAI.
In between, participants log 1,000 miles of training. They also receive a bike, jerseys, a water bottle, bike shorts and t-shirts that they get to keep at the completion of the program.
The Dream Team is a grassroots organization, traditionally funded by the cycling community. But being part of Birdies for Charity has expanded the program’s reach.
“Birdies For Charity has opened up and introduced the program to a whole new group of people who aren’t necessarily cyclists but who just want to help youth in the Des Moines area,” Garner said. “They may not be cyclists or know anything about RAGBRAI, but they enjoy seeing kids have success.”
Creating a ripple effect.
Back at Wildwood Hills Ranch, Moeckl can cite countless examples of success stories.
“There’s one young man who we’ve helped since he was 8 years old,” Moeckl said. “He used to be our best fighter. His mom had 16 brothers and sisters, and they had eight or nine kids apiece, and every male in his family had dropped out of high school by age 17. Many were in prison – until him.
“Now he’s set a new standard as the first kid in his family history to graduate from high school.”
The young man’s two sisters and a brother, as well as cousins, have since graduated from high school.
“If we can impact even one kid, a lot of times there’s a ripple effect,” Moeckl said.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Brandt Jobe celebrated his first career PGA TOUR Champions victory at the 2017 Principal Charity Classic, holding off defending champion Scott McCarron and eventual Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland by one shot at historic Wakonda Club in Des Moines.
Jobe continued his strong play throughout the 2017 season – including a record-tying round of 62 at the U.S. Senior Open – before finishing 7th in the final Charles Schwab Cup standings.
The 51-year-old Texas resident recently returned to Des Moines for the Principal Charity Classic’s 2018 Media Day and visited Wakonda Club for the first time since his victory.
RB: You ended a long drought (403 events on the PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR Champions) with your victory at the Principal Charity Classic last year. When you sit here and look out at Wakonda’s 18th green, I’m sure that brings back some special memories.
BJ: I’m sitting here envisioning my shot, what club I hit here, what I had to do. It does feel good. I had a lot of close calls on TOUR, and I probably wasn’t as good a player as I should have been. I tried to juggle family and golf a lot. But at the end of the day, I think I made the right decision because I’m close to my kids.
RB: What kept you going during that streak outside the winner’s circle?
BJ: My wife (Jennifer). If I call her up and say, ‘I’m going to do this, or I’m going to play there,’ she’s always been a go. And when you have someone telling you, ‘Go practice, go for it,’ it’s pretty nice to have that support mechanism. I wish I would have done some things differently with my game, but I’ve had a heck of a run. I’ve got a great wife, great kids (daughter, Brittan, and son, Jackson). Everyone has been supportive. And I’m doing what I love to do. I’m over 50, and I’m still playing golf. It doesn’t get much better than that.
RB: You suffered a freak accident back in 2006, when a plastic-and-steel broom handle you were using to clean leaves out of your garage in suburban Dallas snapped, and sliced off the tip of your left thumb and forefinger to the bone. Luckily, you acted quickly, put them on ice and had them reattached successfully. Did you think golf was over?
BJ: My daughter was there, and it was not something a 6-year-old needs to see. I was covered in blood. Luckily, I had a friend down the street (former TOUR player Brian Watts), and he gave me a ride to the hospital. On the ride there I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’
RB: You called a doctor friend of yours, who knew a microsurgeon, Dr. David Zehr (who just happened to be on call at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas). And he was able to put you back together.
BJ: He came in and said, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ I got unlucky with the broom breaking, but I was so lucky that a great doctor was there to help out.
RB: What is it about your left side? You’ve had several surgeries on your left shoulder, left wrist, and then your left hand.
BJ: This one is perfect (holding up his right arm).
RB: You attended the 1978 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver, Colorado. Isn’t that where golf caught your fancy?
BJ: I was 13 or 14 years old, a big baseball player. I didn’t really play golf. But I thought, ‘How cool is this?’ If you go out and shoot 71, you’re at 71. Playing baseball, I went 1-for-3 and some other kid went 1-for-5, and he’s batting in front of me. Why? Because there are coaches and other things involved. I thought golf was pretty cool. What you shoot is what you are. It was so fair. A brutally honest game. I think that’s what attracted me to it. I played a year of high-school golf (at Kent Denver School in Englewood, Colo.), and I got lucky.
RB: You first met Scott McCarron in the parking lot at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles when you both were freshmen at UCLA. He won his first PGA TOUR Champions title at the 2016 Principal Charity Classic. And then you went out and did the same thing here a year later.
BJ: I wouldn’t have expected this to be Scott McCarron’s first win, at all. And I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be mine. I thought it would have been at one of the bigger courses, because our advantage is definitely length. But length does have a place (at Wakonda Club), too.
RB: Can you imagine during your first conversation with Scott at Bel-Air if you had said, ‘I bet we both win on the PGA TOUR Champions for the first time in Des Moines, Iowa.’
BJ: That would have been crazy, right? Crazy.
RB: You’re coming off a great 2017 season (one victory, seven top-10s, more than $1 million in earnings). You also matched the record low round in a U.S. Senior Open with a 62 in the third round at Salem Country Club before finishing third. Where does that 62 rank in the memory bank?
BJ: That was fun. Great golf course, a USGA event. A very memorable round. It was very cool to come up to the 18th hole and open up (TV) coverage by hitting a shot in there to four feet, and then make the putt. It was neat for my kids. They were there. They hadn’t gotten a chance to do all the media stuff. So they got to go on FOX (TV) with me, and go in the big USGA (interview room) and be a part of that. It really helped them understand, ‘This is what dad does.’ It was really special for me to have them be a part of that.
RB: Your career resume shows you typically start slow each season and then build momentum as you go. Is that the case again this year?
BJ: If you look at my past seasons, I’m right on track. I’m always working on stuff. Sometimes my tweaks don’t work, sometimes they do. Ballstriking is usually a strength, and it’s been a weakness this year. Putting’s usually the weakness, and it’s been a strength.
RB: You came to Wakonda last year with a bunch of putters, looking to find your stroke. And you found it.
BJ: I’m not a guy who usually changes things. I think I had eight or nine putters on the practice green. I whittled it down to three and took all of them with me during the Pro-Am. I went six holes with the first one I thought I’d putt with, and said, ‘Nah.’ Three holes with the next one, and it wasn’t right. I had this SeeMore I went with the rest of the day, and shot 6 under par. That’s the putter that kind of got things going.
RB: You said you don’t like to change equipment, but you have a bag full of new clubs. What happened?
BJ: I got my equipment broken after the first event of the year (Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai). They ran over my golf clubs. Thank you, American Airlines. They had to pry my TOUR bag apart. Someone ran over them with a truck. Three-wood, gone. Driver, gone. Two new sand wedges, gone. A couple of other shafts, gone. Putter survived, though.
RB: Dialing in the proper equipment is a science. Equipment is your livelihood. What did American tell you?
BJ: They said to send in receipts for when I purchased the equipment. I told them it’s not the money. You don’t understand how much time I’ve put in getting some of those things. The driver, for me, was 30 or 40 shafts of testing, hours and hours of time, going to the factories and doing all of those things. That actually slowed me up quite a bit this year. But I think I’m in pretty good shape now.
RB: The first 2017 PGA Tour Champions event your wife Jennifer attended was the Principal Charity Classic in her home state (she’s from Dubuque). She was going to attend your son’s baseball tournament, as I recall, but family members talked her into coming to Des Moines.
BJ: Her brother and sister both said, ‘Are you crazy? Go.’ She got to see her sisters, her mom and dad. The first tournament she comes to, it’s in her home state, both her sisters and her dad come out, and I win? Pretty amazing.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
Editor’s note: The first 500 fans to arrive at the Principal Charity Classic on Sunday, June 10, will receive a free Brandt Jobe bobblehead (pictured above). Can’t wait? Brandt’s bobbleheads are currently available for purchase, while supplies last, at principalcharityclassicstore.com. All proceeds benefit Iowa children’s charities.
Since 2007, the Principal Charity Classic has donated approximately $13.5 million to support Iowa kids – including a record $3,581,427 in 2017. That level of giving wouldn’t be possible without the more than 1,200 volunteers who help bring the Principal Charity Classic to life each year.
“There are many different volunteer opportunities at the Principal Charity Classic, with something for everyone,” said Jenny Fields, Volunteer Manager for the Principal Charity Classic. “We also like to reassure people that golf expertise is not required, just helping hands and a big smile. Our goal is for every volunteer to have a fun and memorable experience while giving back to the community.”
Volunteer assignments range from on-course marshals, standard bearers and TV spotters to merchandise volunteers, shuttle drivers, Pro-Am operations and more. A full list of committees can be viewed at principalcharityclassic.com.
Committees are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, with placements announced in April.
How to register
Returning and new volunteers must complete online registration (click HERE to register). Volunteers are required to work a minimum of two (2) shifts, which range from 4-6 hours each, and to make an $85 donation in support of Iowa children’s charities when registering.
All 2018 volunteers will receive the following package, valued at approximately $350, in exchange for their generous donation to support the tournament’s charitable mission:
Free admission for tournament week
Five (5) Good-Any-One-Day tournament tickets to share with family, friends, etc.
Meals on days of service
An invitation to the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party
The official volunteer uniform (one golf polo, one rain-resistant golf jacket and a hat or visor)
A one-time 25% off merchandise discount
A preferred parking pass for tournament week
There are also a limited number of junior volunteer opportunities available for individuals age 13-17 during tournament week. Juniors interested in volunteering should use the code JUNIOR.
The Principal Charity Classic offers a variety of unique incentives to reward volunteers, including:
Register by 5 to be entered to win an inside-the-ropes Honorary Observer experience.
Register by March 5 to be entered to win an invitation to the 2018 Pairings Party.
Register by April 2 to be entered to win a pair of VIP Champions Club tickets.
Register by May 1 to be entered to win a merchandise prize package.