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Abe Winter, Published February 19 2010

Podolak set to go on Champions Tour

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Check out this parking row: Corey Pavin, Tim Simpson, Gary Player, Mike Podolak, Don Pooley, Nick Price.

That’s how the vehicles lined up in one row of the parking lot near the clubhouse of The Old Course of Broken Sound Club, site of the Allianz Championship today through Sunday.

Podolak certainly was impressed as he pulled into the lot in a 2010 Lexus, one of is offered free of charge to all entrants of the PGA Champions Tour event.

“I looked over and saw Nick Price, Gary Player and Don Pooley … there’s a lot of impressive people around here,” said Podolak, who lives in Oxbow, N.D.

Podolak also is impressing people, including Gary Bhojwani, the president/CEO of Allianz.

“In celebration of our 10th year as title sponsor of Allianz Championship, we wanted to use one of our sponsor’s exemptions for the benefit of one of our agents,” Bhojwani said, adding that the criteria called for the player to be a scratch or better golfer, age 50-plus and shoot par or better at the site of the tourney.

Amazingly, Podolak came to the course in early December after not playing for two months. He played a practice round then carded a 1-under 71 to earn his invitation to the 54-hole event.

“We’re thrilled that someone with such a rich golf history like Mike is able to experience this unique opportunity,” Bhojwani said, “and have his family and friends with him for a memory of a lifetime.”

Podolak, 55, will tee it up at 10:30 a.m. today in his first pro tournament since the 1986 Masters, which was his only previous pro event. His playing partners – Rod Spittle and Jim Roy – may not be among the biggest names on the Champions Tour, but the three behind them certainly are well known (Ian Woosnam, Dave Stockton and Tommy Armour III).

Although last weekend’s winner, Fred Couples, isn’t playing, there is no shortage of talent. Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Paul Azinger, Bernhard Langer, Jay Haas, John Cook, Curtis Strange, Fred Funk, Scott Hoch, Hale Irwin, Bob Tway and others should be among the challengers. And don’t forget that list along Podolak’s parking row.

Podolak, a winner of 21 state titles as an amateur in North Dakota, will add to his golfing memories no matter how he scores this weekend. In fact, birdies were scarce during his three appearances in pro-ams this week.

“It’s completely different than it was when I played here in December,” Podolak said, “It’s probably four or five shots tougher.

“I’m not crazy about my game right now, but it will be OK. I’m just not real sharp and I’m trying to get used to new irons. I missed a lot of short (putts) and if you challenge a 12-footer, you could go past by 4 or 5 feet. The greens are scary fast.”

Podolak said he’d be a bit nervous today at the outset.

“It’s certainly got my attention,” he said. “If you’re not nervous, you’re not ready. So I’m ready.”

Doug Podolak, Mike’s brother from Excelsior, Minn., will be the caddie. Cheering his shots will be wife Brenda and daughters Kate, 18, and Laura, 15. Also here are Dick Miller, who coached Podolak on the Oakes High School basketball team, and Oakes residents Tom Vie, and Reed Olien, who is Podolak’s best-ball partner in tournaments.

Fellow Oxbow Country Club members Paul Nelson, Mike Adams and Russ Newman will be in the gallery, as will Mel McPhail, who caddied for Podolak in many Pine-to-Palm tournaments.

“I don’t have any expectations – none,” he said. “I’m going to make it a memory, take lots of pictures.

“And then I’m going to go home and do what I do best – sell insurance.”