rod spittle

Rod Spittle has overcome a rough start to his week to put himself in contention to win.

Plan executed, Spittle eyes first major crown

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

ST. LOUIS – Back in 2004, at age 49, Rod Spittle and his wife, Ann, made a life-changing decision. 

After 25 years selling health insurance, Rod quit his job, Ann quit hers, they sold their house in Columbus, Ohio, and decided to try something new – professional golf.

That’s right, at age 49, Spittle – who starred as a collegiate golfer at Ohio State, where he was a teammate of John Cook and Joey Sindelar – decided all those years later to finally take a crack at the pros.

“My dream was always to play again,” Spittle said. “I played at Ohio State with John Cook and Joey Sindelar, who are great guys and great gentlemen. I just thought I could always play. I won my two Canadian Amateurs when I was in school. I just chose not to chase the lifestyle of being away from my family. My hat continues to go off to John and Joey because of that. I turned pro at 49. Our kids are grown. We have three kids – our daughter is 34, and we have two boys who are 32 and 29, as well as two granddaughters. That was when we figured it was OK to do this.”

It might sound crazy, but the Spittles put together a five-year plan. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t, it was back to the drawing board.

Fast forward to this week at Bellerive Country Club, site of the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. With just 18 holes left to play, the 57-year-old, nine-year professional is alone in fourth place, just four shots behind leader Kenny Perry at 6-under-par 207. Spittle shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday to go along with Friday’s 71 and Thursday’s 69.

The nutty thing about all this is that if it weren’t for burning the midnight oil on that five-year plan, Spittle wouldn’t even be here this week.

So let’s go back to 2010 for a minute. Spittle’s five-year plan was coming to an end and it wasn’t exactly the end he had in mind. Bluntly, it was getting to “dust off the resume” time.

“Having not played the regular tour, our plan was to work our way on to the Champions Tour,” he said. “And I did that for a couple of years playing the Monday qualifiers. I basically learned again how to play at this level.”

In the last event on the 2010 Champions Tour schedule – the AT&T Championship in San Antonio – and with perhaps a final trip to qualifying school looming in the fall, Spittle changed everything: He won.

Talk about cashing in on a five-year plan.

Spittle defeated Jeff Sluman in a playoff, earned his full status on the Champions Tour and didn’t miss a single start in 2011 or 2012.

“Everybody wants to play as well as they can – no matter what level that might be,” Spittle said. “That win at the end of 2010 was huge. It changed everything. Like I’ve told my buddies and all my kids – I played golf for 40 years and made a 3 ½-foot putt in 2010 to win a professional golf tournament. 

“I still get goose bumps [thinking about it]. That’s what’s so great about this sport we play. I postponed my stuff a little bit later than John and Joey. They won their tournaments at 25 and I won mine at 55.” 

Adding to the legend of Rod Spittle is the perseverance he showed early on this week. With a 2:30 p.m. tee time in Thursday’s first round starting on the back nine, Spittle began this journey at Bellerive in the worst of the week’s conditions – howling wind, sideways rain.

Through his first three holes Spittle was 3 over par – a bogey, par, double bogey start. 

Simply put, it was ugly.

“You just simmer down,” Spittle said. “And I think I made three birdies on the back nine to get back to even par before the turn. I got back to even par and we’ve been playing well ever since. I guess I had my bad holes in that first hour instead of stretching them out over the four days. The first day it was just long, wet and cold. And I’m old, so it was just a brutal start. 

“That’s what the last few years have taught me. You’ve got to be patient. You just have to ride it out and simmer down. It dried out. The rain and the wind stopped and I was fortunate to make some birdies.”

Now, Spittle – sitting where he’s always dreamed of eventually being – has an opportunity to do something on Sunday that he’s never before even given himself the time to imagine: the chance to win a major championship. 

“If it so happened that I won tomorrow night, we’d have to break out the handkerchiefs,” he said. “I can’t even think about what that would be like. The classic answer is tomorrow is just like any other day. You hit it in the fairway, you hit it on the greens. We’ll try not to watch the scoreboard too much. You get yourself in position come tomorrow afternoon about 3-4 o’clock and we’ll see what happens. I have a brilliant strategy – just try to make more birdies than bogeys. Either way, we’re in a pretty neat spot.”

Neat and unbelievable.