Defending Champion Savors Year Of Opportunities
By Beth Murrison, USGA
San Francisco – In the this year’s U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, more than half the field – 184 players – were competing in the championship for the first time.
Most of them were considerably younger than Indianapolis’ Mike Bell.
For Bell, 60, it was just one of many perks he earned for winning last year’s USGA Senior Amateur Championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind.
This summer, he’s played in the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits and traveled to Scotland for the British Senior Open at Muirfield and the British Seniors Open Amateur at Nairn. While overseas, he and his wife also visited St. Andrews, which was hosting the Women’s British Open. They were warmly welcomed at the home of golf, even sitting in the men’s locker room, watching Annika Sorenstam tee off.
"I’ve been welcomed a lot of places because of my title," said Bell. "I recognize that and appreciate it and feel a little bit humble. I don’t feel any more special than a lot of guys playing. I was just fortunate to win last year. Everything just fell into place perfectly for me."
By all accounts, Bell shouldn’t have even been at the 2006 Senior Amateur. He was an alternate after sectional qualifying and figured his chances of making it to the championship were slim at best.
But when a fellow contestant decided to withdraw at the last moment, a spot was his.
"I think it was fate," said Bell after winning last year. "Everything that could happen, seemed to happen for me right."
That wasn’t the first time Bell found himself in an unexpected place. His entire career seems to have gone that way. His introduction to the game was working as a caddie at the Country Club of Indianapolis as a youth, carrying a bag for people like Pete and Alice Dye. Through the contacts he made there, he earned an Evans’ Scholarship and attended the University of Indiana.
After graduating from Indiana in 1969, he and his wife moved to Georgia, where he became a sales representative for a pro golf equipment company. Before long, he was hired by the Ben Hogan Company and returned to Indianapolis, where he’s been ever since.
"Everything in my life has revolved around golf," said Bell. "Not because I was a golfer, but because of the circumstances of how golf works. Golf introduced me to a lot of people."
He eventually got around to being a pretty good golfer as well.
When he turned 50, with his kids in college, he and his wife Trish decided it was time for Bell, who owns a school services company, to work a little less and play golf a little more. They bought a home in Sarasota to give Bell a year-round opportunity to hone his game. He admits now to having a single ambition – winning the USGA Senior Amateur.
"That was my goal and my dream but I really wasn’t thinking that would happen," said Bell, who qualified for the 2003 U.S. Senior Open three months after open-heart surgery. "But I started practicing and got better and started qualifying for Mid-Amateurs and Senior Amateurs."
In 2006, it all came together. He won eight tournaments, culminating in the week at Victoria National, where he made an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole against Tom McGraw to claim the national championship and open the many doors he’s enjoyed walking through this year.
Things didn’t go as well as Bell hoped at The Olympic Club. A four-hour fog delay culminated in his first round being suspended due to darkness after 13 holes. He was even par at the time, but couldn’t keep it going the following morning.
He looks forward to joining his contemporaries at Flint Hills next week. Bell has not been to Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan., site of this year’s Senior Amateur, but he looks forward to playing the course, a Tom Fazio design. After all, Fazio courses have treated him well – Victoria National is another of his layouts.
No matter what happens at Flint Hills, Bell will forever proudly carry the title of Senior Amateur champion.
"It’s been a great honor," said Bell. "I’ll be a little sad when next week comes but I hope I can step my game up and defend. I know it’s always a long shot to win."
Given Bell’s history as a long shot, don’t count against him.
Story written by Beth Murrison, manager of media relations for the USGA. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.