The wonderful facet of the U.S. Open and the U.S Senior Open is that you find great stories about little-known players who defy the odds and gain entry into these prestigious national championships.
There were 2,479 players over 50 who tried to qualify. My longtime friend, Bob Koch, made it.
We met more than 35 years ago when Koch transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa from LSU. He was on the golf team, I was the golf writer for the Tampa Tribune. A quick friendship was forged, and it has lasted through the years, through good times and bad.
It seems like Bob tried forever to qualify for the U.S. Open. He came really close in 1980. I was on the bag that day at Greenlefe Resort near Tampa. He shot 71-73 and made it into a playoff, with four guys for three spots. We lost the last spot to a guy named Gary Koch, no relation. You know that Koch, you most likely don't know Bob.
Koch went on to try many times after that. We lost count. It was his dream, a longtime dream.
His dream comes true Thursday, albeit many years past his prime, yet still in his senior prime. He's 52 and will have son Josh (22) on the bag. His wife Angela will be there along with his other sons, Bobby (18), Spencer (15) and daughter Sidney (12). His dad, Al, will be there, too.
But the most important member of the family is missing. Peggy, Bob's mom, died 10 days before he played in the qualifier at Wedgewood Golf and Country Club in Powell, Ohio. He shot 67 that day, finished second to Dean Prowse of Cleves, Ohio and punched his ticket to this USGA championship.
"I knew she was with me during that round," Koch told me. "I felt her presence there. She always wanted me to play in the Open, there's no doubt she helped me through that round."
He was solid all day, hitting 15 green and most of the fairways. Nice golf.
Koch made it despite the fact that his schedule puts a damper on golf practice. He's the founder and president of Medicus Golf. If you watch the Golf Channel, you've seen Mark O'Meara and Hank Haney demonstrate the hinged training club that started the company.
The odds were against him the way they are against most who try these qualifiers. But there he is at Indianwood, getting ready for this prestigious championship.
"Great course, really great course," he told me on Monday after his first practice round.
He'll have to watch himself prior to Thursday. He's had back surgery and wrist surgery, and his other wrist hurts. "Sometimes my body feels like I'm 80," he said, laughing.
His persistence has overcome those pains. This trip has been 35 years in the making.
Koch never gave up the dream. He now has his chance to go against guys like Fred Couples, Tom Watson, Tom Lehman and defending champion Olin Browne.
"It's great to be here, great to have my family with me. I just wish my mom was here to see this," Koch said.
Something tells me that Peggy Koch is there, watching over her son.
Play well, Bobby.
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