Ex-golf Pro Happy He Chose Family

Amateur Prepares For English Tourney

August 18, 1991|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,Staff writer

The way former Professional Golf Association member Mike Gillis seesit, life couldn't be any better.

After spending five years as an assistant club professional, the Annapolis native left the golf business in 1988 to pursue a lifelong dream -- raising a family.

"It's why I got out," said Gillis, 30, who lives in Churchton with his wife, Anne, and two daughters, Meagan, 3, and Molly, 1. "To me,there is nothing that replaces having a kid.

"By being an amateur, I get to play competitive golf, I get to be a dad and I get to run the business with my family. I don't know what else there is."

Gillis' mood is upbeat these days and no doubt his recent invitation to the British Amateur Championship in England has something to do with it. The 1979 graduate of St. Mary's High will leave for England on Sept. 1 to give himself time to adapt to the climate and course conditions.

The tournament, one of the premier amateur events, is conducted by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The Ganton GolfClub in Scarborough, England, plays host to the event.

Gillis, who competed in last year's U.S. Amateur Open in Denver, said he had doubts as to whether he would be invited, especially with the deadline for announcements nearing.

"They had to invite me by Aug. 5 and I got a phone call on Aug. 4 from someone with a strong British accent," said Gillis.

"The guy was talking to me for about five minutes and I couldn't understand a word he was saying. Finally I asked, 'Am Ibeing invited to the British Amateur?' and he said, "Yes. What do you think we're talking about?' "

Gillis is looking forward to playing abroad and said he hopes to "present the right image of Americans"while over there. He has not begun clearing off space on his trophy shelves, but he does believe that his game is well-suited for England's windy conditions and large green surfaces.

"I hit low, punch-type shots, which are great in the wind, and the greens over there are very receptive to low, rolling-type shots," he said. "I really think when I get over there, if I get comfortable, stay healthy and get lucky I have a chance to do well."

Doing well in golf is something that has come naturally for Gillis, whose father, Charlie, handed him aclub at the age of 2. At the ripe young age of 13, Gillis won his first tournament -- the Anne Arundel County Junior Championship.

"I told my mom that I was going to play golf at (Dwight D.) Eisenhower Golf Course (in Crownsville) that day, and she dropped me off," he explained. "When she picked me up at 4:30, I had a big trophy, and she asked, 'Where did you get that?' "

Gillis went on to compete for St. Mary's, with his father as coach and founder of the program. The Saints endured a winless season their first year, in the highly competitive Washington Metro Catholic League, but by Gillis' senior year, St. Mary's had established itself as one of the league powers.

His accuracy and consistency on the fairways and greens earned him a scholarship to Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., where he majored in history. Upon graduation, he continued to focus all of his energy on golf, and in March 1983, he became a PGA member.

After serving as an assistant golf pro, first at Greenspring Valley Hunt Club in Baltimore County and then at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Gillis faced a major career decision that he says was made with "a 100 percent family consideration."

"I didn't have the talent or the desire to go that extra step and make it on the tour," said Gillis, who had considered playing on the South African Tour. "The only other alternative . . . was to be a club professional, and I didn't want to do that.

"I didn't see me being able to make the sacrifices and have a family. A club professional is at least a 75-hour-a-week job and you work every weekend."

Gillis wasted no time in getting out of the golf business and joining the family business, Gillis Business Forms in Annapolis.

While many avid golfers look to pattern their lives after such greats as Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, Gillis said he has tried to emulate Perky Cullinane, a virtual unknown on the pro tour, but a hero among the amateurs.

"Perky has been on the amateur tourfor 35 years, and he's still competitive," said Gillis, who met Cullinane while working at Columbia. "What impressived me about him was how he was able to stay competitive on the national level and still beable to raise his family and have a nice business.

"I looked at Perky and said, 'When I'm 50 years old, I'd like to have my family raised and not screwed up because I wasn't there.' I wanted to be competitive and continue to learn how to play. With the amateur events I have that opportunity."

Gillis said he misses teaching the sport, which was his initial reason for turning pro, but says he still gets anopportunity to give some informal instruction to clients when playing "business golf." "I enjoy playing with the customers; it's fun," hesaid, with tongue in cheek. "They hit a shot, and I say, 'Nice swing, let's go find it in the trees.' " Although his tenacity is still equal to that of a pit bull, Gillis believes his temper, as well as hislife, are well in control.

"I used to torture myself if I wasn't playing well," he said. "Now, if I have a bad round, two minutes later, I forget about it. I've changed a lot.

"Before getting married,my four priorities in life were golf, golf, golf and golf. Now my priorities are being a husband, a father, a businessman and then a golfer."

And the way Mike Gillis sees it, life couldn't be any better.

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