Steve Liebler, at 57, gives up years and distance to younger competitors these days, but he still has a lot of game. He proved that again last weekend, when he won the Festival of Flowers tournament at the Patriot at Grand Harbor in Ninety Six.
Maybe his triumph shouldn’t be a surprise; he’s been lights out recently. He reached the semifinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur last fall, losing on the 21st hole, and tied for second in the Carolinas Mid-Amateur in April.
But the how is a wow – he holed out from 108 yards for an eagle-2 to win the Greenwood-area tournament for the fifth time, this one in a four-man playoff.
“You don’t get many chances against the young guys at my age, and winning never gets old,” Lieblerhe said. “They came back to me a little (in the final round) and it turned out to be my day. I don’t make an apology for hitting a great shot.”
Facing defending champion J.J. Jordan (Ninety Six), Spencer Skiff (Aiken/Newberry College) and Jordan Warnock (USC Upstate) in the playoff, Liebler joked, “I’m probably older than if you add all their ages together.”
Playing first on No. 1 , he drilled his tee shot into the middle of the fairway and sent his second into the cup.
“I was just trying to land it on the front of the green and get it close enough to make birdie,” he said. “I felt at least one of them would make birdie the way they had hit their tee shots.”
Instead, he made eagle with his shot taking a bounce and rolling into the cup. Good fortune is involved in the result, but he hit the shot he planned.
Tournaments like the Festival of Flowers – Liebler has played the event almost every year since 2002 – help keep his game primed for state, regional and national competition. His job requires extensive travel, and he picks and chooses his golf opportunities these days.
Later this month, he’ll attempt to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open. His strong showing in the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur earned him a two-year exemption, and September will find him in St. Louis for the 2016 championship.
Reflecting on the ’15 Senior Amateur, “I played good the whole week, even in the (semifinal) match I lost,” he said. “(Son) Chase was caddying for me, and I told him I want to ‘par’ (his opponent) to death. I wanted to see how many pars I could make and I made 20 in 21 holes. Unfortunately for me, he made birdie on the final hole.”
Liebler’s one of the few who has played in all USGA events (except the newly minted U.S. Amateur Four-Ball) for which he’s eligible, and the 2015 Senior Amateur matched his reaching the semifinals in the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“With those 10-year intervals, they’ll have to invent another tournament for me” in 2025, he said and laughed.
No need to do that. Even giving up years and distance in most competitions, he finds a way to hold his own. Just ask the guys in the Carolinas Mid-Amateur and the Festival of Flowers.
Jack Parrott (Columbia), Travis Mancill (Hilton Head Island) and Colby Patton (Fountain Inn) earned berths in the U.S. Junior Amateur in qualifying at Santee National GC. Tyler Gray (Lugoff) and Walker Jones (Sumter) are alternates. Parrott will be in the championship, set for July 18-23 in Ooltewah, Tenn. near Chattanooga, for the second straight year. … Cody Proveaux (Lexington), who completed his eligibility at Clemson this year, earned a berth in the Web.com tourney in Nashville in Monday qualifying. … After three tournaments, Caleb Sturgeon (Laurens/USC) ranks fourth in earnings on the Mackenzie Tour, the PGA Tour’s Canadian affiliate. … Ticket registration for the 2017 PGA Championship, set for Aug. 10-13, 2017 at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, are proceeding at a record pace. Tickets are sold through a fee, online registration process that is now open at www.pgachampionship.com. Sales begin in August.