By R.J. Smiley
Eight shots in 3 holes! 4 under par! But there is more!
I have known Mike Cleland for over 40 year. He has always been a really good golfer. But Mike, like fine wine, just gets better with age.
When you meet Mike on the golf course he looks like and acts just like any other average golfer. He does not attempt to impress you with fancy golf clothing or claims of greatness. He is just a low-key guy dressed in comfortable golf clothing. Mike always walks when he plays, pushing his cart at the same methodical pace after a birdie or a bogey. In many ways Mike Cleland, the golfer, is a throwback. He has used the same putter, an old Bulls Eye Putter with about a pound of lead tape on the back, since I first met him. His irons are blades, not cavity-backs, again with plenty of lead tape and shafts in his club are steel not graphite or some other space age material. His 7-iron is the longest club in his bag, except the dinosaur 1-iron.
At age 69 Mike is still very much a competitor. He plays golf to win! Mike plays more tournament golf than any golfer that I know. Last year at Territory Golf Club, Mike’s scramble team shot 20 under. Guess who the anchor was? Mike has several MGA Championship trophies in his collection and has competed in USGA Championships. He once beat John Brody, the San Francisco 49er quarterback out of a handsome sum during a practice round at the U.S. Amateur in Oklahoma.
Mike has been a regular member of the MGA Senior Tour for years. Rather than list all the Senior Tour awards that he has won, let’s say he has won every Senior Tour award at least once. Even though Mike is age-eligible to play in the Masters Division of the Senior Tour (age 65 and over), he chooses to compete with the young guys in the Seniors Division (age 55 to 64). Playing down a division on longer courses, Mike still wins his share.
In a recent Senior Tour event at the beautiful Geneva Golf Club near Alexandria, Mike experienced a very unusual series of holes. Starting on the 8th hole on the Island Course, Mike hit an 8-iron to within about 12 feet and drained the putt for a birdie 2. With a small smile on his face Mike hit first on the Island’s long par 5 9th. In his usual (take no-risk) routine, Mike laid-up short of the water with only a wedge to the green. With his always smooth and effortless swing, Mike landed his ball about 10 feet short of the flagstick. It gently trickled to about two feet. Another birdie, this one a 4.
The group then moved to the Pond’s Course. Mike’s tee shot over the hill to the blind fairway on the first hole came to rest on the side hill with a fluffy lie. After he got the exact yardage (163 yards) from his playing partner, Mike chose his 6-wood, a hybrid with the loft of a 6-iron. Again with the smooth swing, Mike’s ball flew directly at the hole. With little spin on the ball, because of the fluffy lie, Mike’s ball landed about 30 feet short and rolled directly into the hole on the last turn. Eagle 2!
The three-hole stretch was played in 8 shots, 4 under par.
Mike followed the eagle with a par 4 on the second hole. No streak lasts forever. Or does it? On the third, a par-3 over water, Mike knocked the ball to about 25 feet, leaving him with a curling putt over a hump in the green. After looking over the putt from all sides, using Omar Mike methodology he drained the putt for his third 2 in 5 holes.
The hot streak had ended, at least for this day, as Mike made two bogeys finishing up shooting his age, 69… again.
The following Monday I ran into Mike at another Senior Tour event.
“Remember that 6-wood I holed at Geneva?”
“Sure who could forget it?”
“Well the next day at Pebble Creek I had the exact yardage, 163 yards, and holed that 6-wood – again.” A bigger smile this time. “But, I am not finished, the following day I had 160 yards to a par-3 at Pebble. I hit that 6-wood and bounced that ball off the pin about two inches away.” Huge smile this time! Mike was almost laughing.
Why would he hit any club but the 6-wood?