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Ex-Bemidjian Israelson eager to tee off at U.S. Senior Open

Bill Israelson, who was raised in Bemidji, spent part of the July 4th holiday weekend working on his golf game at Bemidji Town and Country Club. On Thursday, Israelson will tee off at the U.S. Senior Open in Omaha. Pat Miller | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – In the early 1970s Larry Perkins coached the Bemidji High School boys golf team. The Lumberjacks were a power back then, and Bill Israelson was among the program’s best players.

Israelson now is 56 years old, but he remembers Perkins taking the time to work with all of the young Lumberjacks and helping them become the best golfers they could be.

This summer Israelson was planning on doing the same. His main pupils would be his children — Zach, Emily and Andrew. Zach is a junior at Savannah College in Atlanta and is a member of the golf team. Emily will be a senior at Staples-Motley High School and Andrew will be a sophomore.

All three are accomplished golfers and their dad was going to dedicate this summer to helping them elevate their games even more.

“I told the kids that this summer I would have the time to work with them,” Israelson said. “During the spring I put my energies into working with the high school boys and girls teams at Staples-Motley (as an assistant coach) and this summer I was going to put my energies into working with my kids.

“But I really haven’t put in the time to work on my own game.”

There was one event and one course that Israelson did want to play this year — the U.S. Senior Open sectional qualifying tournament at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata.

Israelson had played Spring Hill four years ago in a PGA section event and he wanted to play another round on the par-72 layout.

“I really liked the course but the course didn’t like me,” Israelson said, remembering the 83 he shot that day. “I wanted to play the course again.”

On June 17 Israelson had his chance as Spring Hill hosted the U.S. Senior Open section qualifier. And to his amazement, Israelson beat the course and the field as his par-72 round was the best of the day.

“When you have low expectations, sometimes you meet them,” Israelson said of his round. “And in this case I exceeded them.”

“I hadn’t tried to qualify for the Senior Open for the past three years and, really, I played in this tournament just because I wanted to play on the course,” Israelson continued. “I’m a visual player and Spring Hill is very intimidating. It was a challenge for me and, honestly, I surprised myself by shooting 72.”

As a reward for winning at Spring Hill, Israelson qualified for the U.S. Senior Open and this week he and his family will make the trip to the Omaha Country Club. The tournament begins Thursday and continues through Sunday. He will be paired with amateur Tommy Brennan of Covington, La., and professional Jacob Ferenz of Simpsonville, S.C. for the first two rounds. Tee time for the trio is set for 7 a.m. Thursday and 12:45 p.m. Friday.

With his boys serving as caddies and his daughter and wife Sarah in the gallery, Israelson is eager to play this week.

“The Omaha Country Club is an old-style course with many trees and bunkers,” Israelson said. “My problem in some of the other tournaments I have played is that I can get into trouble and have a big number on a hole. I don’t anticipate any big numbers in Omaha but I may have a string of bogeys.

“I’m 56 years old now. That’s old even for the Senior tour and my game is starting to teeter to the side of not playing as well as I have in the past. But I still have a few days to fine-tune my game.”

Israelson believes that his short game will save him strokes this week but he is worried about the driver and the fairway woods.

“From 100 yards in my game is still very competitive and on an Open course you have to be able to scramble,” he said. Because of my short game if I hit a bad drive I still will have a chance to recover and not card a 7 or an 8.

“But, right now, I literally can’t find a fairway and that is disaster on a U.S. Open course. If my drives do not get better between now and Thursday I better wear a hard hat on the course.”

No matter what happens this week, however, Israelson and his family are going to bring back fond memories.

“My goal when I turned 50 was to play four or five majors on the Senior tour and keep in touch with the guys I played with in Asia and during the regular tour,” Israelson, who was a member of the regular tour and the Asian tour in the 1980s and 1990s, said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a regular on the Senior tour because I had different priorities.

 “I’m getting older now and qualifying for the Senior Open and playing this week is like icing on the cake,” he continued. This will be the eighth Major that I have played in during my regular tour and Senior tour career and having all of my family with me will make this one very special.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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