Bobby Stroble has faced bigger deficits than the one he will try to overcome today in the final round of the $1.25 million State Farm Senior Classic at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia.
"It was probably against some guy for money when I didn't have any," said Stroble, who is five shots behind second-round co-leaders Tom Jenkins and David Graham. "That was as big as you can get." Stroble has also overcome a few obstacles along the way to the Senior Tour, since his background is quite different than most, if not all, of his competition these days.
He grew up playing on a three-hole course that was put together in a vacant field near his family's home in Albany, Ga. He spent years playing the predominantly black North American Golf Association Tour after a one-year tour of duty in an infantry unit in Vietnam.
"I won about 100 tournaments all over the world," said Stroble, 53, who earned just $4,921 in brief stints on the PGA Tour but was the leading money-winner on the Senior Series, a satellite tour for over or soon-to-be 50-year-olds in 1994. "Hopefully, what I did in those I can apply out here."
Stroble nearly won a Senior Tour event as a rookie two years ago. Leading the Trans america by two strokes with three holes to play, Stroble duck-hooked a shot out of bounds, tripled-bogeyed the hole and wound up third.
Some of those memories came back to haunt Stroble yesterday. After starting out at 2-under-par 70, Stroble played the first 10 holes in 5-under. But he bogeyed the par-4 13th after hooking his tee shot behind a tree, and missed a short putt for birdie on the par-4 14th.
Then came another duck-hook from the fairway on the par-5 18th.
"I hit the same shot when I had the two-shot lead," said Stroble.
Using an 11-degree driver, Stroble badly duck-hooked his approach on the 541-yard hole. It wound up five yards left of the bleachers in a heavy clump of bushes. Stroble tried to convince a rules official that, if not for the bleachers, he would have had a shot to the green.
Stroble wound up losing the argument, and had to take an unplayable lie. He was given relief because of the bleachers, and pitched from the rough to the back fringe, where he two-putted for bogey to finish the round with a 3-under 69.
"I came to play 18, I had to play it, I couldn't pass," Stroble said. "The grandstand was in my way. If I got in there and hit the grandstand, a lot of scenarios could have happened. It could have opened up a whole can of new worms."
He thought for a moment.
"They make the fairest calls, it could have gone either way," Stroble said. "Anybody who hits a shot like that deserves to be penalized. It was a pretty dumb shot."
It left Stroble in a group of six players at 5-under 139. Hale Irwin, the Senior Tour's leading money-winner who likely will become golf's all-time money-winner today, was in a group of four more at 6-under 138 after his second straight 69.
Bruce Summerhays and Bob Duval, who both shot 68, were at 7-under 137. Former area pro Fred Gibson, who shot 67, was two shots behind the leaders at 8-under 136. Terry Dill was a shot behind the leaders after a 68.
Stroble was disappointed with the way he finished, sitting in a golf cart with his wife, Connie, and quietly steaming about his closing bogey. But he didn't seem overly concerned by the deficit or intimidated by the competition. It's the same attitude he took when he first tried to qualify for the Senior Tour.
"I always was a good player," said Stroble, whose victories included a Middle Atlantic Open at Hobbit's Glen and All View, another course in Columbia that has since been closed. "I felt like I could get through qualifying school having gone through qualifying school [for the PGA Tour] five times. It's something I had done. I knew I could do it again."
After finishing second in his first try at qualifying school, Stroble had a terrific rookie year despite what happened to him at the Transamerica and, earlier that season, at the First of America Classic, where he saw a three-shot lead going into the final round disappear with a 76. He had nine top-10 finishes and wound up 27th on the money list with $464,648.
Having problems with his putting, Stroble had a disappointing second year. He finished in the top 10 only once, a fourth-place tie at the St. Luke's Classic, and ended up 50th in earnings with $311,970. As a result, he lost his exempt status. This year hadn't been much better, with only one top 10 (a tie for fifth in Pittsburgh) and $109,078.
"I think he'll be able to win in the next four or five weeks," said Lefty Brown, a Baltimore golf pro who has been one of Stroble's mentors since their years together on what Brown called "the neckbone" circuit. "He's really raised his game to a new level this week. He's learning how to putt better."
Asked what it would take for Stroble to win, Brown said, "Just like he's playing now."
Stroble and his wife are staying with Lefty and Audrey Brown at their home in Baltimore, just as he did when Brown won the Middle Atlantic PGA Championship at Hobbit's Glen in 1974. "I told him that being my house guest again, it's his turn to win this time," Brown said.
What's five shots to a guy who used to overcome bigger deficits with nothing to back him up but hope?
"He's tenacious," Connie Stroble said of her husband. "He saw his dream and went after it."
He will go after it, not to mention Jenkins and Graham, again today.
The leaders Tom Jenkins 69134 David Graham 65134 and selected followers Terry Dill 68135 Fred Gibson 67136 Dave Stockton 69136 Graham Marsh 70136 Hale Irwin 69138 Larry Nelson 70139 Arnold Palmer 73144
Complete scores, today's tee times. 14d
Pub Date: 7/05/98