WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Most days from April to October, you can find Erik Tiele greeting golfers and answering the phone with his club’s signature phrase, “It’s a beautiful day at Waubeeka,” in South Williamstown.
This week, Tiele hopes to have some beautiful days in the Southwest.
Tiele, the head professional at Waubeeka Golf Links, departed Monday for Austin, Texas, site of this week’s 31st Senior PGA Professional Championship.
He won the right to compete in a playoff at the Northeastern New York Sectional Championship in July at the Edison Club in Rexford, N.Y.
This week marks Tiele’s first appearance in a national championship at any level. It is a dream come true -- one that the 50-year-old pro did not take quite this long to realize.
But Tiele achieved it through hard work, dedication and a change of lifestyle that earned him a mulligan for a once promising career.
“I always tell everybody, it took me 50 years to get there to be doing it as a senior, but I guess I’ve finally done it,” he said last week.
“Coming up, growing up in high school, I was a very good golfers. I played in a lot of junior tournaments. And then I had the car accident [in 1987], and I recovered from that and went to work for Rick [Pohle at Taconic Golf Club]. And I played some good golf -- not as good as I once did -- as an assistant.
“And even once I became a head golf professional in the Connecticut section, I really didn’t play in any events in the Connecticut section because most of them were so far away. I did play in the county events and did well in some of those.”
But as time went by, the impacts of that accident and the ankle injury Tiele sustained began to catch up with him.
“The ankle became a little more deformed, the arthritis became a little more pronounced,” he said. “And it was a vicious circle. Because I couldn’t walk as much and exercise as much, I started to gain weight. And gaining that weight led to even more problems. I finally got to the point where, basically, my next-to-last year at Worthington, I really didn’t play any golf.
“The year of 2015, I basically didn’t play any golf.”
That is when he decided to change his life and, as a consequence, his fortunes on the golf course.
“I said, ‘Look, I’ve got one foot in the grave the way I’m going. This is not going well,’ “ he said. “So I made that commitment. I’ve got to lose weight. I went to one of those seminars and went through that. And I talked to the orthopedist about the ankle, and … they knew I had to have the ankle reconstructed and the hip done, but because I weighed too much, they couldn’t do the hip.”
So began a series of operations -- an ankle reconstruction, a new hip, the insertion of a gastric sleeve to help with weight loss -- that allowed Tiele to pursue his competitive career again.
“Last year, I started playing a little bit more golf -- getting out there and playing nine holes at a time,” he said. “It was slowly there, but I was still recovering.
“This year, I told [Waubeeka owner Mike Deep], ‘This is the year of Erik.’ I’m going to play as much golf as I can. I want to try to become more competitive. And I want to start to enjoy it again.”
He could not have expected to play as much golf as he needed to on July 31 in Rexford, N.Y.
After finishing 4-over-par for two rounds that day, he found himself in a four-way tie for first with two tickets up for grabs to go to Austin.
Two of his competitors were gone after the first three playoff holes. But he and his remaining opponent played on for five more holes -- all the while each knowing they were moving on to the national, one as champ, the other as runner-up.
“On the eighth playoff hole, Pete [Gerard of Latham, N.Y.’s, Mill Road Acres] hit a good third shot in, and with the backspin on it on a hill, the ball ended up rolling back to about 25 feet,” Tiele said. “I had a good shoot coming in, and my ball stayed up on top of the hill. I was about 10 feet away. Having the long, uphill putt, he rolled his about 6 feet by the whole and missed a 6-footer to three putt.
“At that point, when he rolled it 6 feet by, I putted up to about maybe 3 inches. He missed the 6-footer, and I just had to tap it in, and it was over.”
Or, in a way, it’s just starting.
“I’ve done some online research [on the Austin courses], just the yardage on a couple of holes and things like that,” Tiele said. “There was one gentleman here who has played it, and he said it’s very similar. It’s rolling hills in Austin, where we’re going to be, rather than desert of mountains. It’s similar to [Waubeeka] in a way, he said. It’s a lot more gentle undulations and terrain.”
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