EDMOND — “Now on No. 1 … playing out of Oklahoma City … Rocky Walcher.”
A former pro golfer who has worked in the public sector the past decade, Walcher will be the first player to tee off Thursday morning at the 2014 U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.
“It’s kind of neat that they’re doing that for me,” Walcher said. “It’s something you’ll always remember. I just hope I don’t think about it all night the night before we tee it up.”
Born in Carnegie, Walcher attended high school in Woodward and was an All-American at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. When he stopped playing professionally around age 40, he first sold cellular phones. For the past nine years, he’s been a financial advisor for Edward Jones.
“I’ve been aiming for this tournament almost since the day they announced it was coming to Oak Tree,” Walcher said. “This is such an awesome experience. I was a member here at Oak Tree from 1991 until 2004. I’ve probably played this course at least a thousand times.”
Walcher, 52, had additional motivation besides playing on his former home course. Rod Moody, a longtime friend dating back to when they were college teammates, died of a heart attack in early January.
“When they played the U.S. amateur here in 1984 Rod caddied for me,” Walcher said. “When it looked like I might have a chance to qualify, I started thinking about how great it would be to go back and play at home and also memorialize my good friend. Once I knew I had gotten in I got a little emotional.”
Oak Tree National co-owner Everett Dobson was part of the Southwestern gang that played golf together more than 30 years ago.
“I had a lot of friends who tried to qualify for this, but if I was forced to choose just one to get in it would have been Rocky,” Dobson said. “We’ve played literally thousands of rounds together, a lot of them here at Oak Tree. Rod was our dear friend. We both spoke at his funeral. He died way too soon, way too young.”
Walcher qualified by shooting a 68 two weeks ago at Split Rail Golf Club in Aledo, Texas. He was six-under through 10 holes, in prime position to earn one of the four spots from a field of 140 entries. He finished 4-under, one shot ahead of three other players.
“I had a really good round going, but I almost ran out of gas,” Walcher said. “I drove the ball well. I putted well. I had been building up to that (qualifier) and I liked the course. I knew I was in good shape if I didn’t screw it up. Fortunately, I held on.”
In his 20s and 30s, Walcher played in 55 PGA Tour events, the majority seven years apart in 1994 and 2001. He earned only $100,000 but also pocketed nearly $400,000 in 210 events on the Web.com tour. Walcher also earned money playing two years on the Canadian Tour and mini-tour spots.
Around his 40th birthday, injuries forced him to examine how much longer he could play professionally.
“I was doing well but it was that time in life I thought about my future and felt I needed some sales experience,” Walcher said. “I started out working in a cellular phone store and later got involved with Edward Jones as a financial advisor, something I’ve done the past nine years. It’s gone well for me since I stopped playing professionally.”
Even though golf no longer is his primary focus, Walcher twice attended the Champions Tour qualifying school while working for Edward Jones. When he wasn’t one of five players from among 1,000 seniors trying to earn an exemption card, he still attempted to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open in 2012 and 2013.
The third time was a charm.
“I’ve known Rocky a long time,” said Oak Tree PGA Tour pro Scott Verplank. “He’s been out here a lot the past year working on his game, trying to make it into this field. This was a cherry on top for him to qualify to play here. It’s awesome he made it. I know he’s really pumped.”
Walcher owns three pro wins. He won the Oklahoma Open in 2004 and 2007 and also won the 1996 Nike Omaha Open on the Web.com tour.
“I am so thrilled Rocky got in and has an opportunity to play for our good friend Rod Moody. What a story,” Dobson said. “Unlike a lot of people, once he started battling some injuries he rolled up his sleeves and pursued another career. He’s a close friend I’d love to see play really well this week.”
Walcher lives in northwest Oklahoma City near Kilpatrick Turnpike but knows the Pete Dye designed par-71 layout well, much like Oak Tree pros Bob Tway, Willie Wood and Verplank.
“It’s a little different with the grandstands but you just have to block all that out,” Walcher said. “This is a ball-striker’s course. Most of these guys play all year while I now only play a couple of times a week. But I know the course well which should help me. I just have to go out and play well.”
Walcher’s two sons — Tripp, a student at Oklahoma State and Conrad, a former Putnam North standout who is now on the Wichita State golf team — will alternate days serving as their father’s caddy. Walcher could have up to 50 friends and relatives in his gallery including his wife, Tracy.
“I’d love to make a run but more than anything I just want to play like I know I can play,” Walcher said. “I won’t put pressure on myself. My plan is to free-wheel it and just go play my game. If I do that maybe I’ll have a chance to be playing this weekend.”