The first Champions Tour event of the year starts Feb. 8th with the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla., but the latest Canadian who qualified to play with senior professionals isn’t there. That’s because Philip Jonas qualified for the Senior European Tour, not the Champions Tour. Jonas, who will turn 51 next month, was the 2012 B.C. Teacher of the Year. He can play and he can teach. You can get some more information about him here .
Jonas was watching his 15-year-old daughter in a basketball game on Tuesday evening when I caught up with him. The South African-born golfer had arrived home in Vancouver last weekend after shooting 67 in the final round of the 72-hole qualifier in the Algarve, Portugal on Jan. 31st to claim the sixth and last spot available at the qualifying tournament. He’d missed a short putt in the last green, which he three-putted, and spent an anxious few minutes before he knew for certain that he’d nailed the last spot.
I remember Jonas from when he used to visit the National Golf Club of Canada in Woodbridge, Ont., from time to time. You couldn’t meet a friendlier fellow, and you wanted good things to happen for him. Jonas has certainly been a global player, having had his PGA Tour card in 1987 as well as playing full-time on the Asian, South African, Canadian and South American tours.
Back then he’d play as many as 30 tournaments a year while roaming planet golf. Jonas made a living, not a great living, but not a bad one, either.
“I was in that uncomfortable category of being good enough to keep going, and not bad enough to have to stop,” he told me. “People a little worse than me have more money than I do, because they had to quit golf and do something else. Better players that I was made a very good living.”
Jonas ended up in Vancouver, where he has become one of the most popular and well regarded instructors in the province, or, to be sure, in the country. He works with some PGA Tour of Canada players, and players who compete on other tours. Jonas works at the Hazelmere and McCleery courses. The West Coast Golf Group owns Hazelmere. McCleery is a municipal course. Jonas said West Coast’s president Mike Stuart has been very supportive of his efforts. His sojourn to qualify in Portugal didn’t put him out of pocket.
“I’m not good at asking for anything,” Jonas said. “But the West Coast group offers. They’ve been very good. They also allow quite a few Canadian Tour (now PGA Tour of Canada) players to practice and play.”
Jonas’s wife Patty, a three-time winner of the PGA of B.C.’s Women’s Championship, is also a swing coach. They talk golf, of course, including golf swing and golf thinking. But he said he’s learned a lot from the players he teaches.
“Had I taught before I played back in the day I would have done things differently,” he said. “I tried to be too perfect.”
Many gifted golfers try to be too perfect, and lose their feel for the game in their futile efforts. It’s no wonder that Dr. Bob Rotella hit a home run by calling his first and very good book Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. It isn’t. It’s a game of quality misses. It’s a game of turning three shots into two. Jonas works with his students on scoring more than on creating a so-called ideal swing. He also prefers to play rather than practice. He used to practice too much.
“When I was playing I wasn’t getting into the pro-ams,” he said. “I lost my game every Wednesday on tour because I practice too much. Now, when I have the chance, I’d rather play five or six holes than hit balls.”
He does like to compete, which is why he found himself getting ready to do so again regularly as he approached his 50th birthday. He played the Senior British Open at the Turnberry Golf Club last July. Jonas was eligible off a win he had in South Africa way back in 1990. He shot 71 on the second day, which was the third or fourth-best round in what he described as “horrific” conditions.
“I got some confidence from that,” he said. Jonas made the cut and tied for 55th in a field that included many of the game’s best senior golfers. Fred Couples won.
Couples is where Jonas would prefer to be, as a Champions Tour player. But Jonas has demonstrated and proved to himself that he can still compete. It’s an accomplishment to win a spot on the Senior European Tour, given how few places are available at the final qualifier. As of now, the schedule is limited: two tournaments in England, two in Germany, one in Wales, and one is on the tour’s website for September at the Moscow Country Club. Jonas said he hopes a tournament will be held in South Africa before the PGA Seniors in Cheshire, England, which opens the seasons as of now from June 6-9.
“It’s an opportunity for me to see many places in the world,” Jonas said. He said he found he did well on the South American tour because he felt lucky to be there, seeing new places.
“You generally play well when you feel that way,” he said. Jonas asked me if I’d played McArthur in Hobe Sound, Fla., which his fellow South African and three-time major champion Nick Price co-designed with Tom Fazio. I’ve played there a few times, and always enjoyed the course. It’s a treat to play a course that is thought-out well and that invites a wide variety of shots. Jonas has played there, and said he felt the same way.
Jonas asked me to say hi to Wayne Branthwaite, who works with Price on the course design side of his business life. I sent a note to Wayne, who told me Jonas is a long-time friend. I know that Wayne would join me in wishing Jonas well as he moves along in his golf career to the Senior European Tour.
Jonas will be on his own, because his wife, daughter, and 12-year-old son will remain in Vancouver. But in other ways, he won’t be on his own. As I said, Jonas is one of the friendliest golfers one could hope to meet. He’s a gentleman of the game, and many people will be in his corner wishing him success.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein