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The Journal Gazette

  • File Scott Pieri shows the swing that helped him win five city championships. Now, at 50, he is ready to chase his dream of playing on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.

  • Pieri

Sunday, November 05, 2017 1:00 am

Taking a swing at pro golf at age 50

Pieri sets sights on PGA Champions Tour

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

While most of us try to avoid thinking about turning 50, Scott Pieri spent years looking forward to it. He made plans for it, practiced for it, tried to make sure that he was better at 50 than he ever was at 30.

“I feel ready to go. I feel like it's my time,” Pieri said.

All of this might sound a little strange, but hitting the half-century mark meant a rebirth for Pieri and his dream of becoming a professional touring golfer. Becoming a senior opens up a lot of possibilities, and Pieri is ready to try and get a spot on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.

“I think I've got a better chance of success at 50 than I did at 30, when I tried to play the (PGA) Tour. I think I've got a better chance of accomplishing this,” said Pieri, who turned 50 on Oct. 12.

To qualify for the PGA Tour Champions – formerly known as both the Champions Tour and the Senior PGA Tour – Pieri will have to make it through a two-stage qualifying process that includes tournaments in Orlando, Florida, at the Walt Disney Palm golf course Nov. 14-17 and, if he advances, at the TPC of Scottsdale, Arizona, Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

The top five players will be fully exempt for the 2018 PGA Tour Champions season, although others will do well enough to get some Tour status for next year. Should Pieri not get a tour card, he will still try to qualify at individual tournaments next year.

“I think I hit it better than ever before. I think I'm more ready to play world-class golf than I've ever been,” Pieri said. “I certainly have more length than most people my age.”

Anyone familiar with golf in northeast Indiana knows the capabilities of Pieri, who is one of four people to win five or more of the Fort Wayne Golf Association's City Tournaments, with his victories coming in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. The only person to win more is Tom Kelley, who took nine between 1974 and 2000.

Pieri, who played for Northrop and Ball State, tried his hand as a tour and club pro between 1991 and 2006. That included the 2003 Indiana PGA Championship and a course record in a Buick Open qualifier, before regaining his amateur status.

While he always knew he was going to try and make the PGA Tour Champions, a controversial decision by the United States Golf Association in 2013 thwarted plans to prepare as an amateur or chase a fourth straight city title. Despite receiving no financial compensation, Pieri had done a testimonial for Golf Etc. and was told that was in violation of Rule 6-2, which stated “An amateur golfer of golf skill or reputation must not use that skill or reputation to obtain payment, compensation, personal benefit or any financial gain, directly or indirectly, for (i) promoting, advertising or selling anything, or (ii) allowing his name or likeness to be used by a third party for the promotion, advertisement or sale of anything.”

The decision received national attention, an example of the USGA's lack of flexibility on rules, and people locally found it laughable that the area's top golfer could somehow have his stature improved by a 10-second commercial for a local store.

Pieri could have reapplied for amateur status, a lengthy process, but decided instead to concentrate on preparations for senior pro golf.

“I absolutely made the right decision,” Pieri said. “I've gotten back to being a golf pro, which is where I was headed anyway. ... There are a lot of great things that have happened because of it. It certainly wasn't the plan or the path I was trying to take.”

One of the things that came up was his radio show, “Birdies & Bogeys,” which he fits into his schedule as an independent automotive buyer for Scott Pieri Auto LLC, and being a golfer looking for state opens or professional tournaments around the Midwest.

“I probably haven't had enough competition because it's hard to find things to play,” said Pieri, who is raising money at www.gofundme.com to fund his qualification quest.

Pieri's dream is also intertwined with Fort Wayne golf. He has worked on his swing for 30 years with Rick Hemsoth, the pro at McMillen, Shoaff and Foster Parks, and spent time perfecting things over the last year with Donald Ross Golf Club's Quinn Griffing. Asked where he plays most of his golf, Pieri listed: Autumn Ridge, Riverbend, Cherry Hill and Colonial Oaks.

And he wants to get started on qualifying.

“I'm not feeling nerves, just anxiety maybe. But I'm ready to go,” he said.

jcohn@jg.net