Mike San Filippo always took pride in the fact that PGA Club Professionals can play golf well. He said it paid dividends in his business and added an extra touch of credibility to attract new students.
Last fall, San Filippo fulfilled one personal goal by winning The Callaway Golf PGA Senior Club Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "Winning that Championship was my best and biggest accomplishment of my career," said San Filippo, who makes his debut in the 64th Senior PGA Championship, June 5-8, at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa. San Filippo was the PGA Club Professional Player of the Year in 1993.
All of the above was wonderful for the former teaching professional at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, Mass., who turned 50 just a week before The Senior CPC. However, the player who was one of GOLF Magazine's "Top 100 Teachers in America" elected to take his game on the road.
He stepped down from his teaching position and prepared for the Champions Tour. He finished 16th after a playoff last November in the Tour Qualifying School and became a "conditional" player. It means that fewer exemptions are available each week to him, and he must travel weekly to make Monday qualifying tee times to battle more than 100 players for a precious few spots.
"I talked it over with my wife, Lynn, and decided I would give this two years," said San Filippo, a resident of Hobe Sound, Fla. "I wanted to explore this opportunity and get it out of my system. At the end of two years, I will reevaluate things. I do expect to return to teaching golf some day."
Life on the road is tough enough, but San Filippo found it rougher than most when he did land a berth in his first Champions Tour event this year. After earning a berth in the MasterCard Classic in Mexico City, in early March, San Filippo awakened the night before the first round with a sharp pain. He was about to learn that he had a kidney stone attack.
He eventually was released from the hospital, but not in time to make an early morning tee time.
"I had never been through anything like that and hope it doesn't ever happen again," San Filippo said. "My problem now is learning to manage my game at new courses, adjust to life on the road and stay focused. What I've found is the players out here are exceptional in chipping and putting. They are very efficient. I can look back on my rounds and see where I have thrown away three to five shots per round due to the short game." San Filippo will be joining the 144-player field at Aronimink Golf Club, including seven players who competed there in the 1962 PGA Championship. San Filippo had not yet turned 10 at that time.
"That is the great thing about golf," he said. "You can still play the game well past your 60s if you are physically able. I work to keep myself in shape. I have the game. Now, I have to get the mindset."
San Filippo, who learned the game through his late father, Joe, grew up in Miami. While playing in his youth at Miami Shores Country Club, he me Ed Furgol, the 1954 U.S. Open who played out of the club.
"We got into $2 Nassaus and Ed beat the heck out of me," San Filippo said. "That was a great learning experience for me, and I would say an integral part of my developing my game."
In his bid to develop his Tour career, San Filippo said he has consulted renowned sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, as well as many of his close friends, including PGA Professionals Jerry Impellittiere of New Windsor, N.Y., and Jerry Tucker of Stuart, Fla.
San Filippo may find a path to the tee next week, having elevated to first alternate for the Bayer Advantage Invitational in Kansas City, Mo.
"I'm trying to focus more on my game as never before," he said. "I have been received well by many of the players out here. But, I can tell you that they aren't about to give away secrets to the candy store."
The Senior PGA Championship was begun in 1937 at Augusta National Golf Club at the invitation of legendary Bobby Jones, and has since featured the game's legendary stars that have reached the age of 50.
Tickets to the 64th Senior PGA Championship are available by calling 1-800-PGA-TCKT (742-8258), or visiting www.pga.com.