Player Spotlight: Kirk Hanefeld
Host Salem CC’s Hanefeld hopeful of playing in 2017 U.S. Senior Open
It is a unique accomplishment on its own merit, a club professional qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open through sectional qualifying.
No matter to Kirk Hanefeld, the Director of Instruction at Salem Country Club, venue for the 38th U.S. Senior Open next June 26-July 2. For Hanefeld, who turns 61 next May, hopes to accomplish a doubly unique feat next spring – becoming one of the rare few from a host club to qualify for “The Senior Open.”
If anyone can pull it off, it’s Hanefeld, who remains one of the top players in the New England Section of the PGA – and the oldest contender from one tournament to the next. He finished third in this year’s final NEPGA Eugene “Skip” Wogan Player of the Year points standing behind winner Rich Berberian, 28, and runnerup Shawn Warren, 31, each approximately half Kirk’s age.
Hanefeld is the first sexagenarian to finish in the top three in the Wogan competition.
Hanefeld enjoyed a successful five-year stint on the PGA Tour Champions from 2006 to 2010 before a series of nagging ailments led to his returning to the club pro scene in his native New England.
He knows what it takes to qualify for, to tee it up in, and to play well in the USGA major. He finished T26 in 2006, T32 in 2007 and 41st in 2011, all in the USGA Senior Open. He’s anxious to make a triumphant return to the event, especially when it’s being conducted on his home course.
“I can’t place an overemphasis on the qualifying part, even knowing the reward if I do make it,” says Hanefeld. “I have to look at the qualifier as just another one-day tournament. But I know if I play well, I can qualify.”
He barely missed playing in the 2016 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club. He was in a 5-for-1 playoff for the final qualifying slot in the Philadelphia sectional. It came down to Kirk and another player after the pair birdied the fifth playoff hole, but a bogey on the sixth made Kirk the No. 1 alternate. Sadly, he never got in.
“I’ll hopefully be ready to give it another shot in late May or early June,” says Hanefeld, who wrapped up his first season as Salem DOI the end of October.
He could be preparing for the qualifier at neighboring Kernwood CC in Salem. (Salem CC is in the adjoining city of Peabody.) But he will opt to apply to the USGA for placement at the qualifier in a region between Boston and Philadelphia using the toughest golf course to which he has access. Entrants get select three preferred venues for the sectional and hope the USGA gives them one of them.
“I love Kernwood. It’s a terrific Ross course,” Hanefeld makes clear. “But it’s a course where a good player can get hot and shoot pretty low (at 6400 yards, par 70). I need to play the toughest course I can find, because I seem to play best on the toughest courses.”
Hanefeld’s history at Salem dates back to the 1980s, when the favorite son golfer of Claremont, New Hampshire served as No. 1 assistant for several years before succeeding Billy Ziobro as head professional in late 1987, then became Salem’s first director of golf in 1991. He filled that position until 1999 when he departed for a new private project on Cape Cod at The Ridge Club.
Hanefeld knows the Donald Ross-designed Salem CC layout as well as anyone.
He returned to Salem in 2016 as Director of Instruction.
“Playing Salem on a regular day is not the same as playing Salem on a major championship day,” Hanefeld points out. “Fact is, after the USGA sets up the course for the Senior Open it will play completely different – and much tougher -- than how it plays the rest of the time.
“I experienced the same thing when I was host professional here for the 1991 Massachusetts Open. The course plays faster and the greens in particular will play faster, just like in ’91 and as was the case when the club hosted its first USGA Senior Open in 2001.”
He knows how to keep an even mental keel as he bids to make it to Salem as a U.S. Senior Open competitor next summer. But he also admits, “It would be great fun, a great experience, if I can minimize the distractions as the local entry. But I have to get in first; a very difficult event to qualify for.”
At Philadelphia last year there were 112 players for three spots. ‘Nuff said. Rest assured Hanefeld will give it his best shot.
If he does in fact make it, he will have among the largest galleries of the week, guaranteed.