Senior golf? Nebraska college team has 61-year-old freshman


BELLEVUE, Neb. — Don Byers did not know he was auditioning for a spot on the Bellevue College golf workforce when coach Rob Brown joined his group as a visitor at his membership final August.

Byers was booming drives near 300 yards, making his putts and sitting below par after 9 holes.

Brown requested Byers if he had any eligibility left. Byers thought it was a joke.

He is a 61-year-old grandfather, in spite of everything.

“We laughed about it and moved on,” Byers mentioned, “but afterward he said he was serious. I gave him my number and said if you are, give me a call. That’s the last I thought I’d hear about it.”

Brown referred to as Byers a few weeks later and mentioned the supply stood. Now Byers is a freshman on the Bruins’ seven-man roster.

A real graybeard, he is the oldest NAIA athlete since 61-year-old Alan Moore kicked an additional level for the soccer workforce at Faulkner College of Alabama in 2011. NAIA spokesman Chad Waller mentioned he is aware of of no older rivals in any sport, previous or current. The NCAA does not preserve age data. On the junior school stage, Ken Mink appeared in three basketball video games at age 73 for Roane State in Tennessee in 2008.

The choice to return to highschool and play golf wasn’t all that onerous for Byers, who logged about 170 rounds final yr. His job with the insurance coverage company he purchased within the 1980s offers him flexibility. He additionally sees worth in pursuing a school diploma.

Byers mixes simply along with his teammates, all however one in every of whom is from Latin America. He mentioned being sufficiently old to be their grandfather hasn’t essentially given him privilege.

“Being a freshman,” he mentioned, “I have to get their bags out of the van now and then. But we have a lot of fun and they taught me a lot, and I’ve felt I’ve brought a little to the table, too, keeping it kind of light.”

Sophomore Lautaro Marzilio mentioned it was bizarre at first to have a teammate a lot older.

“But after meeting Don, he’s a great person and he’s like one of us,” Marzilio mentioned. “He understands us. We are kind of different eras, but we share the same thing.”

Byers’ first go-round as a student-athlete was greater than 40 years in the past on the College of Nebraska-Omaha. He was a pitcher on the baseball workforce and blew out his arm earlier than what would have been his first season. He stayed at UNO two years, leaving in 1977 to enter the insurance coverage enterprise. He and his spouse, Deb, have three kids and 4 grandchildren.

Byers works mornings at his workplace and attends courses on campus three days every week. He is taking programs in English, historical past and communications. He hasn’t declared a significant.

Although his U.S. Golf Affiliation handicap index is a powerful 2.Eight — which means he can be anticipated to shoot round 75 on any course — that is Byers’ first foray into aggressive golf in addition to occasions at his dwelling membership, Champions Run in Omaha.

He is needed to modify. He was accustomed to puffing a cigar and having fun with a beer when taking part in with buddies. Bellevue athletic director Ed Lehotak instructed him he needed to drop these habits when representing the Bruins. Byers additionally needed to get in higher form as a result of he could not match into his team-issued golf pants final fall. The 6-foot-Four Byers joined his teammates in a winter conditioning program and has gone from 275 kilos to 230.

Faculty golfers are required to stroll and carry their very own baggage. Byers, who has had two knee surgical procedures and one on his again, mentioned he can be bodily unable to be on the workforce if he weren’t given a concession permitting him to place his golf equipment on a remote-controlled cart.

He has no drawback maintaining at practices on the hilly monitor at Platteview Nation Membership.

“I’m very shocked at how far he can hit it,” sophomore Lucas Leinen mentioned. “I can’t believe he can walk all this every single day.”

Brown, the coach, mentioned Byers stuffed one in every of two roster openings created when a golfer left final yr to hitch the Bellevue soccer workforce and one other one received injured.

Byers mentioned some folks imagine he should not have taken a spot that may in any other case have gone to a extra conventional college-age golfer.

“What difference does it make what age you are?” he mentioned. “If I am 13 and Tiger Woods or if I am 70 … Beat me, and I’ve to beat you. Rob did not say you are a starter. He mentioned it’s important to work your means in.”

Byers did not make the lineup for the Bruins’ most up-to-date match, the TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, on March 30-31. He was, nonetheless, allowed to compete as a person. He shot 13-over 84 within the first spherical and Eight-over 79 in 35 mph sustained winds within the second.

“Out of 120, there were only 18 people who beat me the second day,” Byers mentioned. “That gave me a little bit of confidence that I can play with these guys.”

A number of coaches instructed Byers they admired what he was doing, and rivals sidled as much as him on the course to ask about his remote-control cart and why he went again to highschool.

“They get a kick out of it and are pulling for me the whole way,” he mentioned. “I made a 30-foot putt, and they’re all standing behind me and I hear, ‘Nice putt, grandpa.’ I turned around and they’re chuckling, and I just met them.”

Byers mentioned he is had no second ideas about accepting Brown’s supply to hitch the workforce. His hope is to interrupt into the highest 5 on the workforce, which might put him within the lineup for workforce scoring at tournaments.

“I would like to be a factor,” he mentioned. “Coach and I have an agreement that every semester we’ll take a look at it and see where it stands. I guess my goal is to make it hard for him to cut me and be a 65-year-old senior playing golf.”

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