KINGSPORT — Cliff Kresge felt like he was close to making things happen when the world of professional golf stopped in its tracks.
Kresge, who lives in Kingsport, was in his second year of playing on the PGA Tour Champions circuit for players 50 and over when the PGA Tour suspended operations while the world dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been kind of frustrating because I felt like I was playing really well when all of this started,” Kresge said during a recent casual round at Ridgefields Country Club. “I was playing well and I was looking forward to some starts coming up, and the next thing you know, everything’s shut down.”
Kresge tied for 54th and 43rd in his two tournaments in March with only one round out of six higher than 71.
“Confidence goes a long way, and if you’re feeling good about things, you want to play — you want to get after it,” Kresge said. “And now I just have to maintain and hopefully play well when I get out there.
“I don’t know how that’s going to be coming up because nobody will have played. Everybody might want to play. People might be scared to play. I don’t know. The future is very unknown right now.”
Kresge finished 69th on last year’s money list. It was his rookie year, so to speak, after having just turned 50. That left him with conditional status this year, meaning he doesn’t get into every tournament. He made the field in his two events through Monday qualifiers.
“It’s challenging, and it’s my fault because I didn’t play better last year,” he said. “I’ve been just out of every tournament. That’s why I’ve had to qualify. I was close last year, but I let a couple of opportunities slip.”
Kresge has rekindled his relationship with his old coach, former college teammate at Central Florida, Andrew Rice. He’s also working with a sports psychologist, Dr. Bhrett McCabe.
After qualifying through Q-school last year, Kresge spent last year with full-time status and played in 19 tournaments.
“It was a blast,” he said. “I rekindled some old relationships, guys I haven’t seen in a while. My wife definitely loved the social aspect of it. That part of it was fantastic.
“The golf courses were all great. For the most part, the weather was awesome. It was a real treat. I was lucky to get out there for my first year.”
Kresge had his moments — a 10th-place finish in Japan was his best performance — and he earned $163,324 for the year.
That week in Japan gave Kresge more than a third of his earnings. He opened with rounds of 72 and 66 to make it into the last group for the final round. Paired with eventual winner Scott McCarron and Kirk Triplett, he shot 72, finished 10th and took home $60,000.
“I learned that I can do it, play with those guys,” Kresge said. “Scott was really nice to me. We had a long layover coming home, and we were talking for a while and he said, ‘I’ve been where you’re at. Just stay confident and you’ll be up here with us.’ So that was very nice of him to say that.
“Ball striking, I’m there. It’s just a matter of getting those putts to fall in the hole.”
With the uncertainty of what might happen when competitive golf resumes this year, Kresge is ready for anything — even if it means having to go through more qualifiers.
“I just want opportunities,” he said. “That’s all you want. It is what it is. I’ve been in that position my whole life. I just fight. If I have to qualify, I have to qualify.
“When I get to a golf course, I have a pretty good idea what’s going to make it. I have a score in mind, and if I can get 69 or 68 and that’s what it takes, I’ve got a chance. Normally with my ball striking I give myself that opportunity. It’s just whether I can take advantage of par-fives and make a couple of putts. Then I can shoot 68 or 69 and I’m in.”
With no cut, what used to be called the Senior Tour is considered golf’s mulligan to players over 50. That doesn’t mean there’s no pressure.
“There isn’t any pressure to make the cut, but it’s more of a sprint because it’s only three rounds and you have to get going,” Kresge said. “Usually you have to get to 12 to 15 under par to have a chance to win, and if you get off to a crummy start, it puts you behind the 8-ball.”
Until he gets the call to get back to competitive golf, Kresge has to be content with playing while he can, trying to stay sharp while hanging around at home.
“I want to keep the body moving,” he said. “I’ve been sitting around too much — doing some honey-dos around the house, probably not great for my golf game, but things that need to be done.
“Most of the time I’m on the road playing golf, so it’s nice to be home and spend some time with my wife and my family. It’s been a nice change, actually.”