PGA Professional Roth savors Senior PGA Homecoming

By Mark Smith
Published on

FARMINGTON, N.M. -- It didn't end the way he had hoped, but Farmington's Jeff Roth sure grabbed some attention after his start at last week's Senior PGA Championship. 

Roth, the director of golf at San Juan Country Club, shot back-to-back rounds of 67 and was tied for sixth place in the event in Benton Harbor, Mich. -- in a state Roth had made quite a name for himself for four decades before moving to Farmington in 2010. He was 8 under par and trailed eventual winner Rocco Mediate by just six shots even after Mediate's record-low two opening rounds.

"The competitive juices come back almostimmediately in that kind of situation," said Roth, 58. "It's kind of like riding a bike; you never really forget. You just take that positive energy and run with it."

Roth ran with it early in the third round, getting to 2 under after five holes. But he ran into a couple of bad breaks during the round and eventually ran out of steam.

He finished with rounds of 71 and 73 and wound up tied for 22nd.

Still, not a bad few days for a guy basically on a homecoming visit.

"It was very cool to be there like that," said Roth, who pocketed $26,833 for his finish. "There are a lot of the pros in Michigan who I competed against and know. They were helping with the range and volunteering. It was great having conversations with them and finding out what was going on in their lives, and seeing so many friends and family."

Roth, wife Maureen and two other couples from Farming-ton rented a house for the week for their stay-and-play. His caddie was Ron Fellabaum, a member at San Juan Country Club.

A day before the tournament began, it didn't look like Fellabaum would have to work more than a couple of rounds. Making the 36-hole cut looked like it would be an issue.

"At the beginning of week, I didn't have a whole lot of expectations," Roth said. "I was struggling so badly on the greens. I was hitting the ball well, but my putting was really bad."

SENIOR PGA: Mediate wins | Final results | Photos 

A good friend of Roth's, teaching pro Gary Robinson, followed Roth throughout his Wednesday practice round with Bernhard Langer. After the round, Robinson proved that you definitely can teach an old dog new tricks. "Gary could feel my frustration during the round, and I was desperate for some help," Roth said. "After the round, he took me to the putting green and said he noticed something I was doing wrong when I brought the putter back. He made some adjustments and I was off and running. It was a huge turnaround."

Roth said Robinson coaches Brian Stuard, who won the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic in Louisiana last month.

Roth looked like he could be on the way to a top-10 or even a top-5 finish last weekend until the seventh hole on Saturday. Then 10-under for the tournament, he hit his tee shot in a fairway bunker and made a nice shot out of it, but the ball took a "funny bounce and I ended up making a mess of things."

The double bogey brought him back to par for the day, and he finished with an par 71.

Still, "I really felt good going into the last round," he said. "Physically I felt a lot better, and I really thought I was going to have a good round."

It wasn't bad, but any momentum was squelched on the first hole. His approach shot into the par 4 hit a sprinkler head, took a wild hop and led to another double bogey.

Roth played the next 16 holes at 1 under, but a bogey on 18 cost him a spot in the top 20.

"Fortunately, I didn't have too much go wrong during the week, but (hitting the sprinkler head) did throw me for a little bit of a loop," he said.

Roth said that going against guys who play for a living -- instead of working in a pro shop, like he does -- can make it a little tougher to compete. But it also has its advantages.

"In a way, it's easier to play against a guy like David Frost now, than when we were in our 20s or 30s," Roth said. "He was an up-and-comer then,cutting his teeth in the sport. A lot of these guys who are in their 50s now have been there, done that. They are still talented, but might not have the incentive they once did.

"So a guy like a Jeff Roth can compete -- and then go back to the pro shop at 6:30 the next morning." 

This article was written by Mark Smith from Albuquerque Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.