In an era
when professional golfers fly to tournaments on their private jets and maintain two or three homes around the country and the world, Joey Sindelar is as refreshing as a cool breeze after 18 on a hot summer day.
While his buddies escaped the cold weather of the north during winters for the sunny south or southwest, the 49-year-old Sindelar has never strayed too far from his childhood home in New York State. He still lives in Horseheads, N.Y. and has no intentions of leaving the state he grew to love.
“Maybe it has cost me a bit over the years, staying up north and not going south,” said Sindelar, as we chatted on the putting green at the Tournament Players Club at River Highlands in Cromwell, Ct., site of the Traveler’s Championship. “But it also gave me a chance to be at home for 60 days a year with my family and get away from the game for awhile and get refreshed.”
If I told you that Joey Sindelar has won seven times on the PGA Tour you’d probably give me a bit of a raised eyebrow. But your surprise merely is one more example of how this guy has operated for the most part under the radar despite possessing lots of game, even at an age when most PGA Tour pros are merely warming up for the Champions Tour.
Sindelar captured his last PGA Tour title in 2004 at the Wachovia Championship at the age of 46. He has also won two B.C. Opens in his home state of New York, the Greater Greensboro Open, the Honda Classic, The International and the Hardee’s Golf Classic. His best year came in 1988 when he won the Honda and International, finished second twice, third once and picked up over $800,000 for the year.
The childhood friend of Mike Hulbert has enjoyed a fairly steady career. Although he went 370 events between wins before he captured the Wachovia, he has been among the top 100 players on the PGA Tour most years before dropping to 126th last season and barely missing keeping his card. Through the first six months of the 2007 campaign Sindelar had earned $159,637. His real goal this year is to keep his game sharp before he rejoins his old buddies on the Champions Tour when he turns 50 next March.
“I don’t think at this time I would be one to jump back and forth between the two tours,” Sindelar said as the putting green at the TPC became empty. “Some guys can do that and some, like Freddie (Funk) and (Craig) Stadler, have won on both. For me, I would rather concentrate on the Champions Tour because I have a better shot at doing well. And I’ll be one of the youngest guys on Tour again, which will be a nice feeling.”
Modern equipment has made it possible for players like Sindelar to remain competitive on the PGA Tour well into their 40s and even early 50’s.
“I’m using a Taylor Made 510 driver and I’m hitting the ball about 290 off the tee, which is actually a bit farther than I did when I was younger.”
On joining the Champions Tour, Sindelar quipped, “It always seemed a little weird that you would have to say goodbye to competitive golf when you reached a certain age. With the advent of the Senior Tour, now the Champions Tour, there was something to keep playing for.”
He continued, “Even for guys in their 40’s, there is a reason to keep working at your game and remain in shape because the purses are so big. You can make a good living out here prior to joining the Champions Tour. It used to be that a guy in his 40’s would be looking for a good club pro job, because he could make more money doing that than knocking around on the PGA Tour and finishing down on the money list. That’s not the case anymore. There are a lot of guys in that 43-to-53-year-old age bracket that can still really play and want to keep playing, which is great for us and the fans.”
True to his down home nature Sindelar grew up playing the game on a public course, Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads. His father, Joseph, was a hard working mailman who encouraged his son to play golf, and in fact built a home near Soaring Eagles where the young Sindelar would spend many a summer afternoon playing with pal Hulbert, other juniors and older members.
“It was great growing up. The best thing about Soaring Eagles is that the older guys welcomed us kids and brought us along. We didn’t feel like we were not wanted and that isn’t always the case at some clubs. One of the reasons I got so good at the game was because I played a lot of golf with adults as a kid and they pushed me to get better.”
Sindelar, who has won over $11 million on the PGA Tour, honed his game at Soaring Eagles, winning the New York State Junior title in 1972, the New York State Amateur in 1980 and the New York State Open in 1981. He then flew off to Ohio State University on a golf scholarship. He was a three-time All-America at Ohio State and was a member of the Buckeyes’ 1979 NCAA national championship team. He was inducted into the Ohio State University Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. He joined the Tour full time in 1984.
Sindelar has some strong feelings on how beginners should approach the game.
“Maybe I’m in the minority but I would like to see newcomers and kids learn the game backwards. By that I mean learn how to putt and chip and then proceed out to longer shots with irons and woods. It just seems logical to me. And this way beginners don’t get frustrated by not being able to hit the ball long or straight and have some success at the short game first. That’s the way the game is taught at programs like the First Tee.”