May 25, 2009

Randy Jensen

Winning with vintage clubs never gets old for this eight-time National Hickory Championship titlist

There's another event besides the U.S. Open in the near future. The National Hickory Championship takes place in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., June 5-6, and Randy Jensen is poised to conquer, again.

Grillroom:__ My colleague, Bill Fields, calls you the Tiger Woods of retro golf. True?__

Jensen: I don't know about that. But I've won eight titles using my trusty old clubs. Real old.

How old?

The way they played at the turn of the century. With hickory shafts, and a ball that has square dimples. At Oakhurst, the oldest course in America. Nine holes, 2,200 yards. We go around twice a day, two days.

Why?

Why not? My driver is 43 inches long. The sound of hitting a ball off a persimmon head is so sweet, so unique. I'm guessing it's a sound a lot of young players—I'm 54—using modern equipment have never heard. But if they did, they'd never forget it.

The clubs are less forgiving than today's.

Absolutely. Irons, too. And you have to take better care of them. When wooden shafts get wet, you just can't throw them in the trunk of your car. Gotta wipe them down.

What do you do in real life?

I own a golf shop in Omaha. We sell collectibles, do a lot of repairs. I appreciate the history of the game. There is a certain satisfaction about hitting a club with a smaller sweet spot. My putter is a relic, too.

Are you "retro" all the time?

I [usually] play in plus-fours, with a tie. I'm a plus-1 handicap, but I play pretty much all the time now with vintage clubs. At home I have a TV, and it's not black-and-white. Don't have cable, but I do have a cell phone, not a rotary. Car is a 1987 Porsche. My answering machine, I try my Scottish dialect.

You sacrifice distance, yes?

You can still hit it pretty far if you hit it right. But a course like Oakhurst isn't manicured like modern courses, so you don't get the roll. But it's a blast. Birdied the Road Hole at the Old Course the last time I was there.

This hickory shaft thing's growing?

Oh, yeah. There are championships now in Canada, Germany, England, Australia. I'm guessing if all golfers would try this, one in 20 would stick with it. That's a lot of players.