Competing for your country is a rare privilege that usually is limited to a few talented golf professionals and amateurs. However, five amateur golfers with handicaps ranging from 0-25 earned that “once-in-a-lifetime” honor when the United States team was decided in a 36-hole qualifying at the Hill Country Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort in San Antonio earlier this month.
The winners from five handicap divisions—Bob Neal of Arlington TX, Mark Thomas of Detroit, MI, Eddie Stephens of Wilmette, IL, Ivan Marin of Miami, FL and David Weatherspoon of Arvada, CO—will travel to South Africa for the 17th annual World Golfers Championship at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort in Kwa-Zulu Natal Oct. 29-Nov. 5. The 72-hole competition will be played at the Durban Country Club, the Prince’s Grant Golf Estate, the Umhlali Country Club and the Zimbali Golf Course.
Neal, playing with a 1 handicap, claimed flight 1 (0-5) with a net of 75-72—147. He finished four strokes ahead of Guy Nickels of Keller, TX.
Thomas, playing off a 8 handicap, put together 73-75—148 to win flight 2 (6-10), finishing four strokes in front of Darren Rawlinson of Jacksonville, FL and five ahead of M.D. Hudon of McKinney, TX, the lone woman in that flight.
Stephens left San Antonio thinking he had finished two strokes back in a tie for second place behind Sal Ditta of Bayside, NY who playing off a 15 handicap had posted 76-75—151 in flight 3 (10-15). It was discovered that the committee had erred and that he should have played off a 14 handicap. Thus, Stephens, Ditta and Benton Fillers of Sumner, TX tied at 153. Stephens won the scorecard playoff with a net 36 on the final nine used as the tiebreaker.
Ivan Marin, playing off a 17 handicap, closed with a 74 for 36-hole total of 151 to take flight 4 (15-20), finishing four and five strokes ahead of Arizona golfers Tom Loegering of Sun City and Thong Nguyen of Litchfield.
Weatherspoon (21) emerged as the winner in flight 5 (20-25), improving 13 strokes from an opening 91 for a 36-hole total of 169, one stroke in front of Mike Aybar of Miami, FL.
On the eve of the final round in San Antonio, U.S. captain Anders Bengtson got the sad news that Sven Tumba, who had started the World Golfers Championship 16 years, had passed away at age 80.
Countries expected to join the U.S. and host South Africa in fielding national five-person teams include Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Monoco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand and Ukraine. In addition, there is a separate invitational two-person competition at the same time.
” Golf has truly become a global sport and the World Golfers Championship is a great indication of it,” said legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, a patron of the event and a longtime friend of Tumba. “What I enjoy about it is that all golfers, regardless of skill level, can participate and challenge golfers from all over the world in a fair competition.”