Sal Felice’s favorite story about his recent experience playing in the 41st U.S. Senior Open Championship happened on his very first day at the course in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I went out to the range the day I arrived and asked for golf balls to practice with,” he said. “Typically, they give you a bucket of golf balls that are all beat up and old with stripes on them. But at the Championships, they ask you if you want Titleist Pro balls or Titleist Pro V1. And they are brand new golf balls! I was so smitten, I would have been perfectly content to just be hitting balls on the driving range all weekend.”
Felice, a Hollister resident, competed against 155 amateur and professional golfers over the age of 50 from around the world for the 2021 Senior Open, which was held July 7-11. He scored a 72 on the first day and an 85 on the second, not quite good enough to make the cut. While he missed out on the rest of the tournament, coming in 101st in the field, he is far from disappointed.
“I told myself before I went in that I would not allow my performance to dictate my experience,” he said. “And the experience for the week was everything I thought it would be and better. My daughter caddied for me and we both had a blast out there.”
Felice qualified for the tournament on his first try, going up against 2,999 other senior golfers for a place in the finals. While he competed as an amateur, he was up against seasoned professionals, such as the event’s winner, Jim Furyk, one of only eight players to ever win both the US Open (in 2003) and the US Senior Open.
The first day went well for Felice, as he tied for 30th in greens in regulation and tied for fifth in fairways hits. But getting to the fairway is only one measure of success and he found himself pulling back on his putting.
“I hit the ball from tee to green incredibly well,” he said. “But I putted like I was scared to miss. I putted like I didn’t want to have a three-footer coming back and I was afraid I would not be able to make that. I did that for two days and I could never commit to hitting the putt the way I should have.”
One thing Felice noticed was how imperfect some of the high-level competition was in person.
“One thing I saw was that all of these guys hit bad shots every so often,” he said. “All you see on TV are the great shots they hit. You never see the bad shots, so you get this misconception that they are flawless. They hit bad shots just like I do and it was refreshing to see!”
After playing on the national level surrounded by family, friends and famous golfers, and with daughter Giavanna, 17, an upcoming senior at San Benito High School, carrying his clubs on the course, he has nothing but good things to say about the event.
“Between the hospitality and the food, you are pampered for a week,” he said. “It is unbelievable how spoiled they make you feel. And there were 17 people who came out with me just to follow me and watch me. To think there were that many people who cared that much is great.”
J. Given traveled to Omaha with Felice to cheer him on.
“I have known Sal since freshman year in high school,” Given said, “and he is the one who got me into golf. We have been talking about him doing this and him getting in on his first try made it a no-brainer opportunity to go out to watch one of your close friends compete against some of the best players in the world.”
Given said that Felice looked like he belonged out there: extremely comfortable and striking the ball well on an incredibly difficult course.
“To see someone you know behind the ropes with some of the best players in the world who have won major tournaments is just incredible,” Given said, “And if it was an incredible experience for me, I can’t imagine what it was like for him.”
For Felice, it still seems like a dream come true, never expecting to do as well as he did. And he looks forward to doing it again someday.
“There was a lot of stress,” Felice said, “but I came out of it with more confidence than I went in with. I am going to keep working on my putting and distance control. I have to go through the whole process again, but the one advantage I have is that I have already done it once. So I intend to do it again.”
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