Catonsville golfer hits once-in-lifetime shot to play in England


What happened to Ron Stitely establishes confidence, if you never had any before, in entering your name in a contest. It began with one of those invitations he found in the binding of Golf Digest magazine, a convenient pull-out card. There was no need to even invest in a stamp. Postage was pre-paid.

The odds, he found out later, based on the returns, were 40,000-to-1. But he won. He was the one.

Stitely, a 52-year-old Catonsville resident and a 1959 graduate of Milford Mill High School, was the recipient of a dream golf week in England, including air passage, tickets to the Ryder Cup matches, accommodations at the Metropole Hotel in Birmingham, receptions/dinners and a chance to play three courses with greens and caddie fees paid in advance. There was even a tour of Warwick Castle.

"When I got the telephone call telling me my name had been drawn, I figured it was someone in the office where I work staging a prank," he said. "I'm a salesman for Dillard Paper Co., and some of us play jokes on each other. I told myself they really got me this time. That's what I thought.

"The next morning, I received a fax offering congratulations. I still believed it was a well-planned hoax. I had asked the woman who originally called what I had won. If all this could be true, I expected her to say a putter or a sleeve of golf balls. But she said it was the grand prize, a trip for two, all expenses paid. I was still in doubt."

Then gifts started to arrive, courtesy of the contest sponsor, Taylor Made Mid-Size Burner Irons, and Stitely realized, somewhat belatedly, he had not only been smiled upon by Lady Luck but graciously embraced. Taylor Made and then Golf Digest sent him jackets, sport shirts, an autographed book by Tom Watson, golf gloves, hats and visors.

He asked a friend, Fran Hathaway, to accompany him on the trip. Stitely wonders how he could have been so fortunate when his name was 1-in-40,000.

"To tell you the truth, after sending in the card, I didn't think any more about it," he said. "Am I a good golfer? No. I've only been playing three years, usually at Bay Hills and Diamond Ridge, where I take lessons from a teaching pro, Frank Blind. I broke 100 just once. I have trouble transferring weight from one side to the other when I'm about to make a shot.

"Golf is not easy, but it's such a wonderful experience my regret is I didn't get involved years ago. I've met so many outstanding people and find it to be a game you can enjoy even if you aren't a good player.

"The trip was beyond belief. Everything was paid for by Taylor Made and Golf Digest. We even received daily expense money, about 80 pounds, to use for incidentals while we were their guests."

During the visit to England, arrangements were made for Ron and Fran to play three outstanding courses -- Coventry, Royal Lytham and Warwick Shire.

"My scores weren't too good, but the opportunity to play such places made for a special thrill," Stitely said. "I had never been out of the country before. I didn't know what it was like to have a caddy. Imagine being in such a setting, practically a rank beginner, with a caddy carrying my clubs and holding the pin. It's something I'll never forget."

While shooting a score of 106 at Royal Lytham, he got himself in a sand trap that was so deep it resembled a bomb crater. But he escaped by opening up his sand wedge, taking a good swing and follow-through. It was a highlight.

On the fourth or fifth hole, he can't quite remember, he hit a long tee shot, including his customary slice. It carried over a fence, parallel to railroad tracks, but the timing was perfect. A train headed for Ireland, with a long line of empty coal cars, collected the errant ball so -- in a way -- he had bragging rights to the longest drive of the day.

Stitely is so new to golf he hasn't established a handicap. That will come later. He doesn't know how many other write-in contests he might enter.

"A lot of my relatives and friends thought they'd go through life never actually knowing a contest winner," he said. "Now they realize it's possible. I'm glad I turned out to be an example that, yes, anyone can get lucky. I didn't have to buy any coupons or subscriptions. Just fill in the card."

With the way things are going, Stitely takes it as an omen portending other good things. Meanwhile, he's buying lottery tickets and hoping his numbers come up. He's way ahead of the game. A hole-in-one, with odds of 12,000-to-1, is much easier than winning the golf trip to England, Ryder Cup and all.

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