An Interview With Mike Bell

PETE KOWALSKI:  Just an emotional response, you're the 2006 USGA Senior Amateur Champion, tell us what that means to you.


MIKE BELL:  Well, it's a life - it's a goal that I set when I turned 50, and I went and started practicing really, really hard, and never thought I would attain that goal, but you have to have goals.  And when I went down to Florida and would practice in the wintertime, the guys would say to me, "Man, why don't you come and play, why do you practice all the time?"

I said, "Well, I want to have a chance at being the Senior Amateur Champion."  And everybody thought I was crazy, but I kept getting better.  And so to actually win it is beyond my wildest dreams.


PETE KOWALSKI:  Let's add a little question, a little tweak to that, beyond your wildest dreams, you did it in your home state of Indiana.


MIKE BELL:  I love this golf course because it's a hard golf course, and I usually play hard golf courses better than I do easier golf courses because usually it's not chipping and putting that's my game.  It's usually hitting the ball, solid.  And so when you have to play airborne, hard golf course, I usually do pretty well, and so I was excited.


I played here before, and I've done well when I've played here.  I shot 69 last year at qualifying for the Senior Amateur here, and I liked the golf course.  And so I was really wanting to play in it so bad that I almost didn't get to.


Q.  Tell us about your alternate situation.  There was one or two spots and you were a first alternate.

MIKE BELL:  Yes, what happened was at the site, we had two spots, and coming to the 18th hole, I was the last group, and the USGA official tells me, "Oh, Mike, how you doing."


I said, "Well, I'm 1 under."


He said, "Well, 1 over's best."  And it was a hard hole and I pulled it into the hazard and I made a double.


Now we've got three guys playing for two spots, and we go to a par 5 that I can easily reach in two, and I pull it left hit the cart path twice and goes out of bounds.  I went home that night, feeling about as bad as I could ever feel in my whole life.  Then I find out that I was the fourth alternate, and three alternates got in.


And I was the No. 1 alternate in the whole country and I'm up playing in the State Senior Amateur Championship last Monday and Tuesday, and Jerry Jackson, who was a qualifier, his daughter had to have an operation, and he was contemplating whether he should come down here or stay.  And I happened to win the Senior Amateur Championship of Indiana last week, and I think Jerry said, "You know, I'm going to let Mike go down there, represent us, and my daughter is in the hospital."  So he had two reasons I think to let me come.


I think it was fate.  Everything that could happen, seemed to happen for me right.  And so, you know, everybody was telling me I was going to win this week, my friends said:  "You're going to win, I know you're going to win."


One of my buddies in Florida said:  "I hope you get to play Paul Simpson," because supposedly he said, "Mike you can beat him."


My wife kept coming up to me:  "You're a good player, you're best player, don't feel bad because you're losing some holes."


This year has been unbelievable.  I've won more tournaments this one year than I've won my whole life, and it's just been a phenomenal year, that's all.


Q.  And alternate seems to be a good bonus for you, too.


MIKE BELL:  I was an alternate at the Senior Open and I replaced Greg Norman, I got to play with Loren Roberts and Aoki.  And for 22 holes I was one shot ahead of them and I was going to make the cut and then a little disaster happened to me.


But I had a great time out there, too, and I played well out there.  I shot 73-77, with a disaster hole, so I'm playing better.  And the beauty is, I played a lot of stuff this year, and I didn't get nervous.  And I didn't play great in that last round maybe but it wasn't because I was nervous.  It was just I miscalculated some wind and hit some putts that kept hitting the edges of the hole.


Q.  How long was the putt that you missed and he made on 15?


MIKE BELL:  They were both about 15 feet.  His putt broke a little back right and so I played mine to break back right, I hit it, got on the left edge and just hung there.  I hit a great putt on 14.  I hit a great iron on 14.  I hit a 4‑iron up there like ten feet from the hole on one of the hardest holes in the world, and just nothing seemed to be happening.


And when I got the opportunity to make that putt on 18, I stood over it and I said:  "Mike, you have practiced a million putts for the opportunity to make one on an occasion like this."  And when I hit it, I kept my head still, I rolled it right over my spot, I looked up and it was going right dead in the heart.  I was like -- when it went in, I wanted to just scream, because I was so excited.


Q.  Did that putt move at all?


MIKE BELL:  It moved about two inches left, right to left.  Moved about two inches.


Q.  You must have had a delayed reaction to it.


MIKE BELL:  I wanted to make sure it went in.  It had been hitting the lips on every hole so I wanted to make sure it went in before I did anything.  When it went in, I did react.


Q.  Coming in, you're up three holes going into the back nine.


MIKE BELL:  I started playing a little conservative back nine.  I was using my 3-wood on the back side.  All I was trying to do was make pars thinking, he had to make three birdies to get ahead of me.  Then he came on and he started putting and making some putts.  And you know, that shot I hit on No. 12, it rattled my brain.  I hit a perfect shot off the tee and a perfect 56-degree wedge from 85 yards right into the wind, and this morning, I hit that same exact shot, hit it in the middle of the green and backed all the way off the hole.


So I said to my caddie:  I'm going to hit it between the right side of the green and the flag, let the wind move it a little left and let it get back there so when it sucks up, it's going to get back there and not come roaring off the green.  I hit it two feet on evidently because it hit into an impossible spot.  It's a risk/reward golf course.  You take chances sometimes, and if they work out, you make birdie.  If they don't, you make bogey or double.


Q.  And you said you went a physical therapist or a chiropractor this week?


MIKE BELL:  Yes, Dr.Tom Hamilton, for an amateur event, they had a whole physical therapy floor up there.  They had ice for you; they had people doing infrared and the thing where they warm the stuff on you (ultrasound).  Dr.Tom Hamilton when I first got here, my hips were out of balance and he put me back into position and he and I became friends.  Every day after every match, he came in and checked my whole body over to make sure all of my things were back in line; because it helped walking 36 holes a day when I haven't been allowed to walk in the last six months because I had a bad back, I think he helped me be able to do it.


Q.  Last thing I wanted to ask you was you're in your home state of Indiana and you're at the Senior Amateur and last year you played the Senior Amateur.  When you played, there was nobody out on the golf course except for the players.


MIKE BELL:  Right.


Q.  Here, there were hundreds of people.


MIKE BELL:  It was fantastic.



Championship Facts

USGA Senior Amateur Championship

PAR AND YARDAGE Victoria National Golf Club will be set up at 6,760/6,766 yards and par 36-3672.

Teeing ground Height of grass .30 inches
Fairways Height of grass .55 inches
Green approaches and closely mown areas Height of grass – .425 inches
Collars around greens Height of grass – .375 inches
Intermediate rough 1 inches and 6-feet wide
Primary rough 2-3 inches
Putting greens USGA Stimpmeter reading of 10.5 feet

The USGA championship setup results in a USGA Course Rating of 73.1 and a USGA Slope Rating® of 139.

VENUE Victoria National Golf Club, east of Evansville, Ind., was designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1998. The course was the project of the late Terry Friedman, a well-known Indiana entrepreneur.

Victoria National, which has the feel of a links course due to large mounds and contoured fairways, was built around an existing surface coal mine. As a result, water-filled lakes serve as hazards on 15 of the 18 holes.

HISTORY The USGA Senior Amateur Championship was first played in 1955. The 2006 Senior Amateur Championship will be the 52nd.

SCHEDULE Stroke play rounds will be played Sept. 16-17 (Saturday-Sunday). Following two days of stroke play, the field of 156 golfers will be reduced to the lowest 64 scorers, who will advance to match play. The match play portion of the championship runs from Sept. 18-21 (Monday-Thursday). The first round is set for Sept. 18 (9:30 a.m. CDT start); the second and third rounds for Sept. 19 (8:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. starts) and the quarterfinals and semifinals (8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. starts) for Sept. 20. The 18-hole, match-play final (9 a.m.) is scheduled for Sept. 21.

TICKETS Admission and parking are free for all six days of the championship.


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