McGinnis, 56, thinks big, not old


IJAMSVILLE -- He is about as far removed from the PGA Tour as a golf pro can get. Not only in terms of distance and surroundings, but in age. In fact, mostly in age.

But this week, Mike McGinnis will leave the rolling pastures of this quaint and quiet Frederick County community to play in the Kemper Open at Avenel.

McGinnis, the head pro at Holly Hills for the past 18 years, doesn't merely plan to show up. Nor does he hope just to make the cut, something he didn't do when he played in the now $1.4 million tournament back in 1992.

At 56, McGinnis has an altogether different goal.

"My goal at Kemper this year is literally to win the tournament," said McGinnis.

Realistically, McGinnis doesn't have much of a chance to become only the second club pro to win a regular PGA Tour event, following Richie Karl's victory in the 1974 B.C. Open.

Nor is it likely he will supplant the legendary Sam Snead as the oldest winner in tour history. (Snead was nearly 53 when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open, his 81st tour victory.)

Not with a field that is easily the best since the Kemper moved to Avenel in 1987, a field that includes the top two ranked players in the world, Nick Price and Greg Norman, as well as nine of the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list.

But . . .

"He always thinks he can win," said his wife, Joan, who will be working at the TPC course as a marshal at the 12th hole. "That would be amazing. We're crossing our fingers."

McGinnis doesn't draw his inspiration from Stephen Keppler, the Georgia club pro who nearly won last month's BellSouth Classic. Nor does he fear of becoming this year's Jeff Wagner, the Northern Virginia driving range assistant whose troubles at last year's tournament were well-chronicled as he became the butt of jokes by the CBS broadcast crew.

For McGinnis, it comes from personal experience.

"The last time I played, my goal was to make the cut," said McGinnis, who didn't come close after rounds of 75 and 81. "Through playing in different tournaments, I've found that if your goal is just to make the cut, you get a little too conservative out there. I'm going to play 36 holes as hard as I can and see what happens."

In gaining a spot through a recent pre-tournament qualifying event at the Country Club of Woodmore -- five players tied at 73 after 18 holes, and three made par on the first hole of sudden-death -- McGinnis broke the record he set four years ago.

Then, too, he was the oldest player ever to qualify for the Kemper.

This time, it seems bigger.

"Because I'm the oldest guy, everyone wants to know about me," said McGinnis, who will be at least eight years older than anybody else in the 144-man field.

This is what McGinnis told three Washington television stations, two newspapers, one radio station and a national wire service last week: that he was born in Baltimore, went to City College and came here in 1971, when he took a job at Eaglehead. He moved to the area three years later with his wife and daughter.

The professional resume includes three straight Mid-Atlantic PGA Senior Player of the Year awards, from 1992 through last season. Though he missed qualifying for the Senior Tour six years ago, McGinnis has played in a handful of Senior Tour events, including three Senior TPCs and two Senior Opens. He made the cut in last year's Open at Pinehurst, finishing tied for 69th.

"I have no desire to play the [Senior] Tour full time," said McGinnis, who will try to qualify for this year's Senior Open, scheduled for Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, June 29-July 2. "When I tried to qualify, I wasn't good enough. I didn't think I wanted to do it. But for some reason, my game has gotten better as I've gotten older. I don't hit it as far, but my mental approach has gotten better."

As for his stamina, that remains the biggest question McGinnis has going into Avenel. McGinnis admits with some embarrassment that he still smokes up to two packs of cigarettes a day, and that he's not exactly the second coming of Gary Player when it comes to physical fitness.

"The biggest fear I have is the fatigue factor," said McGinnis. "People don't realize what good shape most professional golfers are in. They walk 18 holes every day, no matter what the conditions are. I probably walk 18 holes of golf three or four times a year. The only thing that will get tired are my legs."

Before this, about the most attention McGinnis has received was for becoming a sometimes playing partner of George Bush during his presidency. They played about six times.

"We became pretty good friends," said McGinnis, who has spoken to the former president a couple of times since he left the White House.

McGinnis has extended a similar invitation to Bill Clinton, but they have yet to play. Holly Hills became a source of some embarrassment to the president last year when a senior adviser, David Watkins, was caught by a local newspaper using the president's helicopter to fly from Camp David to the course for a round. Watkins later resigned.

"That was some good publicity and some bad publicity," said McGinnis.

McGinnis is bound to get more publicity this week. Because of the field, and because of the buildup to next week's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., several national golf magazines will be represented at Avenel.

"I'm sure a lot of people will wonder who I am," McGinnis said. "They'll probably question why I'm there. Hopefully, I can take any doubts off their minds."


When: Thursday through Sunday, 72 holes. Pro-Ams on Monday and Wednesday. Merrill-Lynch Shootout on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Where: Tournament Players Club at Avenel, Potomac

TV: Coverage of third and fourth rounds on chs. 13, 9

Who: A field of 144, including two-time champion Greg Norman, reigning British Open and PGA champion Nick Price and 10 tournament winners in 1995. Also entered are Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin and Fred Funk.

Purse: $1.4 million in prize money, with first place worth $252,000

Tickets: Available at all Ticketron locations or by calling (410) 481-SEAT. Grounds are $25 a day, grounds and pavilion $35. Discount tickets are available through Friday.

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