Fate Turns Pohl from Course Player to Course Designer
by John Bebow
It's been 17 years since Dan Pohl's most significant brush with golf history. Had fortunes been just slightly different_one more three-putt by Craig Stadler, one less three-putt himself_the Mt. Pleasant native would have forever donned a green jacket as the 1982 Masters champion.
Michigan golfers fortunate enough to have cable television systems carrying the Golf Channel might just catch Pohl's big Augusta moments this spring on one of the network's late-night re-run shows.
"I probably get more people who have seen the highlights now than ever," Pohl said. "In this business, people forget you very quickly. Now with all the videos and everything, people can finally recognize who finished second in all the big tournaments over the years."
"I'd never been in that position before. I did what I could," Pohl remembered. He closed the tournament with back-to-back rounds of 67, including a six-under stretch on holes 13-16 on Saturday. He most vividly remembers gutsy play down the stretch on Sunday, such as an up-and-down for par on 15 after hitting his second shot on the par five into the water. And despite three-putting away the title on the first playoff hole, "I felt like I won, too," Pohl said. "Nobody can ever take that away from me."
But fate seems to have taken away much of Pohl's talent.
"I haven't touched a club in two months," Pohl told Michigan Golfer in a February interview from his home outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
In a familiar routine, Pohl found himself turning down PGA tournament invitations again as the 1999 season got underway. This time, the culprit was tendonitis in his right elbow. The problem developed last fall as he tried to pitch fastballs to his 14-year-old son.
"I was working that old right arm from the Mt. Pleasant Oiler baseball team," Pohl said. "I was trying to show him Dad still had it."
Truth be told, Pohl hasn't "had it" since 1995, his last productive year on tour. And he's made few headlines since his wonderful 1986 and 1987 seasons when he established himself as one of Michigan's greatest golfers ever. He won Ben Hogan's Colonial tournament and the World Series of Golf in 1986 and played on the Ryder Cup team and took home the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on tour in 1987.
Since those two banner years, Pohl's most impressive statistics can be found on his ever-growing medical chart: three knee surgeries, two back surgeries, a fused neck, arthritis, bone spurs in both feet, and now the elbow problem.
It's no wonder Pohl is turning his attentions away from the tournament side of golf and toward other projects, most notably golf course design.
"When I think of what the PohlCat represents to my hometown, it's a very good feeling," Pohl said, referring to his first Michigan design, which put his hometown on the map as a mid-Michigan golf destination. "I wish I had more design work. If I could do a couple courses a year, that would be the high point for me. I'd love to have more opportunities in Michigan."
Toward that end, Pohl is working with Lansing-based course designer Bruce Matthews.
Their prescription: Matthews will work on routing, drainage and particulars like that while "I throw playability issues at him," Pohl said. Golfers will hear the first big news out of the Pohl-Matthews team later this year with the unveiling of a still-unnamed layout between Flint and Rochester Hills. Scheduled to open sometime in 2000, the course will be built on an old mushroom farm with a nice mix of elevation changes and woods, Pohl said.
You won't hear Pohl quote from Donald Ross or Alister MacKenzie or offer many other deep theories about course design.
"We can create whatever people want in a golf course," he said. "There are plenty of designers out there who are just as good as the big names, but for developers it's just a matter of getting over that big name."
Once in a while, Pohl gets an urge to regain his big name as a player in the game.
"Basically, my goal in golf is just to get back and compete and mentally want to go back and play," he said, hoping out loud to be healthy enough to compete in a half-dozen or so PGA events throughout 1999.
Some fans might think a veteran pro's mental game would be second-nature_ especially after the kind of high-pressure moments like Pohl has experienced at Augusta, and Colonial, and many stops in between. But when Pohl makes one of his rare tournament appearances, he often tells the hotel clerk at the beginning of the week that he plans to check out on Friday_cut day.
"I'm telling you, you do goofy things," Pohl says. "The physical problems create mental uncertainty."
Last year, Pohl made the cut at the Texas Open and the B.C. Open. "A bunch of the tour guys on Saturday morning looked at me and asked, "What are you doing here?"
Some fans, aware of his injuries, assume Pohl is getting ready for the senior tour, but he's only 44 years old.
"Because of all the injuries, people probably think I'm closer to 50 than I really am," Pohl said, adding that physical problems "make it hard to look six years away" to a second career on the senior circuit.
"All I want to do is just feel good on a daily basis_not for golf, but for daily life," he said.
Still, Pohl remains philosophical about what some would view as incredibly poor physical fortune. Other players with healthy bodies experience mental and emotional wear and tear that's even harder to repair, he suggested.
"It's so easy to watch a David Duval and think his play is the greatest thing since sliced bread," Pohl said. "But on television we're only seeing those guys at their very best moments. If you ask the senior players what their biggest regret is, most of them will tell you they didn't get to see their kids grow up. I've been able to see my three kids in a different light. And I've gotten to know my wife a lot better than I would have traveling from tournament to tournament every week."
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