Features

Hollister golfer qualifies for U.S. Senior Open Championship

Sal Felice will travel to Omaha in June to compete with 155 other golfers.
Sal Felice with his son Tripp, 13, at his driving range he made at home. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sal Felice with his son Tripp, 13, at his driving range he made at home. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sal Felice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sal Felice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Tripp and Sal Felice. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Tripp and Sal Felice. Photo by Robert Eliason.

For Hollister native Sal Felice II, golf has been a lifelong love affair that has culminated in a rare honor: he has earned a spot competing for the Francis Ouimet Trophy at the upcoming U.S. Senior Open Championship on July 8-11 in Omaha, Nebraska.

On May 24, Felice, along with Ken Crawford of Elk Grove, became a qualifier at the Turlock Golf and Country Club regional meet, beating a field of 85 participants. They will join players who qualified in one of 34 US Golf Association regional competitions. There were a total of 2,999 participants and 156 golfers, including Felice, advanced to the final meet. Felice ended with a score of 69.

The qualifying meets are open, with a $200 entry fee, to any professional or amateur golfer who is 50 years of age as of July 8 and whose handicap index does not exceed 3.4 (The better the golfer, the lower the handicap number). Felice has a Handicap Index of 2.6. He is currently 49 but will turn 50 in time for the meet.

“The beauty of the Open is that it really is open to everyone,” he said. “I knew I was capable but I thought that the chances were not good, that I was a long shot. But I signed up anyway. I typically struggle around the greens but I was just having one of those days when my timing was good and I was swinging it well. When I got to the 14th hole, I realized I was leading the event. It was a little nerve wracking but it was great to experience what that feels like.”

Felice has played throughout his school years, on the Palma High School, San Jose City College, and the University of New Mexico golf teams.

“I was good enough to get a little bit of scholarship money,” he said, “but it was more a matter of just loving to play.”

After graduating, he went to work at Femco, a food processing equipment company in Hollister founded by his father, but continued to play golf every chance he got. 

“I just entered the amateur meets,” he said, “I won the championship at Ridgemark a couple of times and I won the San Juan Oaks championship in 2009. I just played local stuff and tried to stay in shape.”

The “local stuff” included: 

  • First place in the Salinas City Match Play Championship in 1999 
  • First place in the Ridgemark Golf & Country Club Match Play Championship in 2003, 2004 and 2005
  • First place in the Stocker Cup Qualifier in 2005
  • Second place in the Apple City Amateur and Senior Amateur Golf Tournament in 2004 
  • Second place in the Toyota Team matches in 2005 
  • Designated alternate in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Golf Championship in 2015

 

An earlier Mid-Amateur qualifying meet set Felice on track for his latest accomplishment.

“I was around 33 or 34 and played in the meet at the Del Rio Country Club in Modesto,” he said. “I got paired with a gentleman named Jeff Burda, who had just turned 50. He told me he had just gotten into the U.S. Senior Open and it was the best golf experience of his life. He said, ‘If you can stay healthy and keep yourself in shape, do what you can to qualify.’ I took that to heart, and the first time I tried, I qualified.”

That Felice did so well in the qualifier is even more remarkable since COVID restrictions forced him to lay off tournaments for almost a year.

“There is a big difference between going out and playing with your buddies and going against people who are trying to beat you,” he said. “I did not get to play competitively until March and it took a while to get my feet wet again. I have been playing golf all my life and there are pictures of me with golf clubs from when I could barely walk. All of a sudden I am the ‘old guy,’ up against all these younger players. I played in two different events where I was paired with someone who was my teenage daughter’s age!”

Felice is not going to Omaha by himself. According to Craig Archer, one of his golfing partners, there will be some friendly faces among the spectators.

“I think all of his friends and I are extremely excited about it,” Archer said. “To play against the kind of people he had to beat and to win is unbelievable. All of his golfing buddies are really excited for him. A whole group of us are going back to Omaha to watch him play—20 or 25 people have said they are in.”

Since Felice is playing as an amateur, he is ineligible for prize money should he win.  His only reward would be to claim possession of the trophy for a year. Yet, for Felice, just qualifying is thrilling enough.

“It is surreal to me, to be honest,” he said. “I keep thinking ‘I’m not that good.’ There are only 156 guys in the world over 50 who get to play in this. I can’t believe I get to say that I am one of them.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.