Rob Oppenheim had not been home for two days after the PGA Tour suspended its season because of the Covid-19 pandemic before he got the itch.
“Most of the players probably put their clubs away for two, three weeks when the Tour announced we’d be out of action for an extended period,” the Salem-born and Andover-raised Oppenheim said by phone from his home in Winter Park, Florida.
“But I can’t do that. Even when the season ends, I keep playing or practicing. In this unique situation I’ve been chipping and putting most every day with my backyard green. And with conditions relaxed here in Florida recently, I finally got back out on my local course (Interlachen) the other day for my first round in several weeks. It felt great.”
No wonder Oppenheim, 40, has kept his hands on a club virtually every day since the Tour cancelled play at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra after the first round on March 13.
The former Massachusetts Amateur and Open champion has been considered one of the Tour’s iron men over the past several years. The Rollins College grad plays every week he is eligible on the PGA Tour and has played as many as nine weeks in a row.r.
"I’ve always been ready to play every week,” says Oppenheim, who will be in the field when the PGA Tour hopes to resume play June 11-14 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth.
“It may end up being a short season (to determine the 100 players for the Fed-Ex Cup playoffs and the 125 players who qualify for the next season) or they might lengthen the 2020 season into 2021. It’s a wait-and-see situation for all the obvious reasons. However the Tour season evolves from here, I’ll be anxious to get back into it.”
Oppenheim is enjoying a rare extended stay at home with wife Lacey and children Zoe, 7, and James, 4. He is comfortable with his Fed-Ex standing in 2020, though he has improvement to make.
He is in 119th place, needing to finish in the top 125 to retain his card for the next season. He has won $326,000 in the 2019-20 Tour season and had made the cut in three of the four most recent events he played before the Tour shut down.
“I haven’t taken this much time off from golf since I was in high school,” Oppenheim admits. “I’m just not one to take time off. Thankfully Lacey and the kids understand how I need to treat my golf as my profession, even when I’m home.”
Once the PGA Tour confirms its start-up tournament, Oppenheim expects he will have at least two weeks to ramp up his game. “I’m staying active, working out every day, so I feel good and ready,” he says. “Once we get the word from the commissioner, I’ll be in competition mode. I’ve already got my flight reservation for Fort Worth for Monday morning of tournament week at Colonial (Country Club). Two or three days is all the prep time on site I usually need.”
He realizes some form of social distancing will be required at Colonial, but even without spectators, there will be lots of people on the property: 144 players, 144 caddies, officials, volunteers, TV crews, some concession people to keep everyone fed. “It’s still going to be a tricky situation,” Oppenheim notes. “We won’t be there, though, unless it’s safe for everyone.”
At the same time, he has cherished this bonus time he has with his family, including his mom and dad who have a winter home near Rob and Lacey’s Winter Park abode. His mom is dealing with a recently diagnosed case of cancer.
“She is doing well with the treatment,” Rob says. “Her prognosis is excellent, but we can’t wait til the treatments are over.”
He has enjoyed helping Zoe with her home schooling, taking the kids to open spaces to play and “keep them busy,” as he says.
With Governor Baker’s edict extended to May 18, the waiting game to get back in action golf-wise continues. More on this next week.
We mourn the passing of Dick Holland, Brian Shea, Richard Hartling and Joe Pennimpede.
Author and historian Gary Larrabee has covered the North Shore golf scene for 50 years.