The North Shore has never seen anything quite like Kirk Hanefeld.
At an age when most professional golfers, club and Tour players alike, have virtually given up on their competitive careers (Bernhard Langer is a rare exception), the 63-year-old Hanefeld continues to play tournament golf at an extraordinarily high level. It’s a level that’s never been seen from a North Shore professional at age 50, never mind 63.
Which is why those of us who have followed his career, particularly now, will not be surprised if he passes next Monday’s qualifying test at Hillside Golf Club in Southport, England and competes in his 31st major championship — covering the PGA Tour and PGA Champions (50 and over) Tour — soon thereafter at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
“I’ve been very fortunate in a lot of different ways since I turned 50, and here we are nearly 15 years beyond that,” Hanefled, the South Hamilton resident and Director of Instruction at Salem Country Club, said before flying across the Atlantic. “I’ve stayed relatively healthy, have nice support from my wife, my colleagues and members at Salem, and I still love to compete.”
It’s been the ideal combination for Hanefeld in continuing to compete and succeed when most contemporaries have long given up the quest due to lack of desire and/or ability.
He has often been the center of attention because of his fantastic record as an amateur and professional player. He won New Hampshire Junior (1971-72-73) and Amateur (1974, 1976) titles, the New England Amateur (1977) and made a significant contribution during three years of playing for the powerhouse University of Houston program.
After turning professional and making it to the final stage of PGA Tour School three times but no further, he opted for a career as a club professional. In doing so, he has combined his talents serving his memberships at Salem (1985-99, 2017-present), The Ridge Club (199-2000), The International (2000-06) with his playing championship golf, both at the NEPGA Sectional level and the national level.
Hanefeld has won three NEPGA Section titles (2000, 2001, 2003), two each Rhode Island and Maine Opens, and one New Hampshire Open. Those victories could not have foretold, however, the phenomenal run Hanefeld has enjoyed at the national level since turning 50:
* Two Senior PGA National Professional (Club Pro) championships, 2008, 2011
* A five-year stint on the PGA Champions Tour (after finishing second in the grueling qualifying school), winning nearly $700,000, posting several top 10 finishes and contending for several titles)
* Competing in a remarkable 30 major championships: one PGA, two U.S. Opens on the PGA Tour, and 27 on the Senior Champions Tour (10 Senior. PGAs, 4 U.S. Senior Opens, 6 Senior British. Opens, 6 Senior Players Championships and one Tradition)
* This year, among the small group of oldest players in the field, making two cuts and finishing among the top 20 percent of scorers at the 312-player field at the PGA National Professional (Club Pro) Championship in Blufton, S.C.. He then made the cut and finished T-57 at the U.S. Senior Open at The Warren Course in South Bend, Ind., where he was competing against a large field of Champion Tour players who knock heads on a weekly/regular basis.
One of the reasons Hanefeld, admittedly one of the shortest hitters no matter what competitive level he plays at these days, continues to succeed on the national level is his never ending hunger to take on the 300-yard blasting “kids” on the NEPGA circuit or the big names on the over-50 national/international tour.
“A truly competitive golfer is never satisfied, and that describes me,” Hanefeld admitted. “I always want to get better, to practice more and see where it takes me. I played my best golf ever on the Champions Tour when I turned 50, and I realize I had a good run winning those state Opens and NEPGAs. Age has caught up with me a little bit now, but I’m still pretty happy with what I’ve achieved in 2019 and I expect to — hope to — keep playing at this level for several more years.”
He is grateful for the flexibility his post at Salem CC provides, allowing for an hour or more of practicing in a given lessons-filled day. “I would have a tough time maintaining my current level of play if I didn’t keep working hard at my game, especially the practice aspects,” he said. “I look forward as much to the one-day NEPGA events I compete in as the national tournaments I get to play.”
How does Hanefeld keep his competitive edge as the rocking chair beckons?
“Golf is a personal experience,” he explained. “It’s with me. It’s me against the golf course. I still like to win, and I tee it up every time expecting to win.
“I still own a high level of confidence in my approach to the game. I feed off memories both short and long term. And I never take my health for granted. That’s a major positive factor at my age when in the past, I had serious medical matters (back and shoulder) to consider. Those issues prevented me from staying on the Champions Tour. I’m fortunate they’ve improved in recent years.”
The only other local player I can recall having qualified for the Senior Open was Tedesco head pro Bob Green in 2000. He missed the cut at Saucon Valley but was paired later in the season with Arnold Palmer at the annual Champions Tour event at Nashawtuc.
We mourn the passing of Larry Drouin and Phyllis White ... After never having two players from our neighborhood qualify for the U.S. Amateur in the same year, we have now had two such occasions in successive years. Salem CC’s Steven DiLisio pulled off the feat last year with Bass Rocks’ Mark Turner. DiLisio made it to the big show again this year, this time with Kernwood’s Christian Emmerich, our youngest qualifier yet at 18. Emmerich is Kernwood’s first qualifier in more than 25 years (the late great Peter Oppenheim). They will be joined at Pinehurst next month by fellow St. John’s Prep graduate Nick Maccario of Bradford ... Also, congrats to Mark Turner for setting the course record at Bass Rocks in Gloucester with a 10-under-par 59 last weekend, holing out his wedge approach on 18 for a closing eagle two.
Brad Tufts and David Grenier of The Outpost Club won the 55th Tedesco Cup gross title with a 136 score, four under for the two-day, better-ball event. Veterans Cy Kilgore and Ferncroft’s Ken Whalley second at 139. John Barnes, Jr. and Damon Moore of Sagamore won net at 124, with Parker Livermore-Tyson Dion (Tedesco) at 128, and Greg Mahan and Steve Solomon (Kernwood) both at 129 ... Congrats to former North Andover High tennis coach and AD Jack Stephenson, a mere 70, on winning his 10th North Andover Country Club men’s title after shooting 147 ... Rob Oppenheim missed the cut at last weekend’s Korn Ferry event.
Reading the Greens is a weekly column on North Shore golf by Gary Larrabee, a former Salem News sports reporter from 1971-95. He has covered golf locally and beyond for the last 50 years.