Sunday Profile: Hitting 50 is an ace for golfer Rohrbaugh | PostIndependent.com

Sunday Profile: Hitting 50 is an ace for golfer Rohrbaugh

Jon Mitchell
jmitchell@postindependent.com

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Doug Rohrbaugh couldn't wait to get older five years ago. Just ask him.

"Turning 50 is the best thing that could have happened to me," he said. "It was another chance for me to get in the [PGA] Tour. My dream had always been to be on the tour, and I had never done well. I tried the Q School for that when I was 25 … and didn't even get past the first stage. This was my second chance."

Rohrbaugh has taken advantage of it in a big way. He's gained conditionally exempt status on the PGA's Champions Tour, which serves as the organization's pro tour for golfers 50 and older. It's so far, so good for the 53-year-old director of golf at Ironbridge Golf Club south of Glenwood Springs, who had to hop on a plane on short notice early last week to serve as the third alternate for the Regions Tradition in Shoal Creek, Alabama. That was thanks to the impressive showing he had in April at the Greater Gwinnett Championship in Duluth, Georgia.

Also thanks to that finish, he will play May 21-24 in the Senior PGA Championship in French Lick, Indiana. He'll head into the tournament with a completely new outlook from when he played in previous majors, when he had to get in through a qualifying tournament.

Now, people know who he is. Plus, he's not starstruck when he goes out to play.

"That's what was great about playing in Atlanta," Rohrbaugh said. "I've gotten to know a bunch of people and they're not pointing at me anymore and saying, 'Who's that guy?' At the same time, I'm not going, 'There goes Fred Couples.' But there have been some times when I've had to kind of pinch myself and ask, 'Am I really here?'"

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STAYING COMPETITIVE

As a PGA professional for more than 25 years, Rohrbaugh has played the Australian PGA tour and competed throughout the United States.

He has been named Player of the Year for the Colorado PGA West Chapter 14 times and, in 2013, was the Senior Colorado Open Champion, qualified for the Senior U.S. Open, was the Senior Colorado PGA champion, Colorado PGA champion and Colorado PGA Senior Player of the Year. He was also selected by the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame as the 2013 "Golf Person of the Year." As a professional, he has won close to 40 events.

Rohrbaugh was executive director of the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation for seven years and the director of instruction at River Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carbondale for four years prior to joining Ironbridge.

Still, getting on the national PGA Tour had always been his ultimate dream. His problem, especially as he got older, was that the younger players were always outperforming him.

"My son, who is 18 years old, is out-hitting me by 50 yards. That's tough to keep up with," Rohrbaugh said. "For me, I couldn't wait to turn 50. In fact, I embraced it."

That son, Tristan, won the Class 3A boys golf state championship for Basalt High School two years ago.

Growing up, when his dad was frustrated about not making it through Q School — the PGA Tour's qualifying tournaments — it showed.

Seeing the success his dad is having now is a thrill.

"It's awesome," Tristan said. "He's always had a good career, but this is topping it off.

"Ever since he turned 50, he's kind of gone off," he continued, laughing. "And that doesn't make sense to me. You're not supposed to get better when you get older, are you?"

BETTER WITH AGE

Doug Rohrbaugh, after he turned 50, went from being the old man on the course to the new kid on the block. He was playing with people who were his age and older and, when he was in the Champions Tour Q School qualifier last year, he got better right when he needed to.

On the final day of the Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament at Orange County National in Winter Haven, Florida, on Nov. 21, 2014, he shot 4 under on his final 12 holes. That put him into a one-hole playoff where he claimed the tournament's 12th and final conditionally exempt spot in the senior tour.

Rohrbaugh, who finished the second day in a four-way tie for the lead in the 78-player tournament, finished the 72-hole tournament at 1-under 287. That left Rohrbaugh, who was tied for 17th in the tournament headed into the fourth and final round, in a tie for 12th place with Craig Thomas of White Plains, New York. That set up the one-hole playoff with Thomas for that final conditionally exempt spot on the Champions Tour, which Rohrbaugh won by parring the playoff hole.

In April in Duluth when playing in miserable, wet conditions before the final round was called off, Rohrbaugh finished with in a tie for 15th overall at 4 under for two rounds.

He's gotten onto a conditioning program that he feels puts him in the "top 10 to 20 percent" in fitness among players on the Champions Tour, noting that many old-school players won't lift weights or work out for fear their golf game will be hurt. The conditioning program is what he thinks helped get him on the regular Champions Tour.

By bring conditionally exempt, Rohrbaugh is basically an alternate player for every tournament on the Champions Tour unless he wins a tournament. If that happens, he becomes fully exempt and can play in any tournament he wants. He can, however, earn a spot on the regular tour if he continues to have successful tournaments like he did in Georgia and makes his way up on the tour's money list. In that case, he could become eligible to play in the final Champions Tour events of the season after August.

"I have stepping stones to get more opportunities," he said. "It's certainly not going to be easy, but I'm learning a lot from this chance. And I'm thrilled to have this chance, but I want more."