A generation ago, the Vaudeville key to success in mainstream America was "Will it play in Peoria?"
Fast forward to international golf, such a phrase has relevance for two-time PGA Professional National Champion Tim Thelen of College Station, Texas, who closes a storybook sophomore season, Dec. 7, on the European Senior Tour.
"If you can play golf well in Minnesota and Texas, you can play anywhere."
The 51-year-old Thelen has won three times on Tour this season and finished runner-up once. In the process, he has knocked off some of the 50-plus legends of the game in Germany, Switzerland and in the rain in Taiwan. He lost a playoff to David Russell in September in France.
On Nov. 11, Thelen posted a five-stroke, 14-under-par performance in the Fubon Senior Open in Taipei, Taiwan, playing the final round in the rain. That victory elevated him to No. 3 on the European Senior Tour Order of Merit, behind Senior PGA and U.S. Senior Open Champion Roger Chapman and Barry Lane. He has earned $312,271.
Thelen's stellar play earned him an invitation to compete Dec. 7, in a 48-member field on The Republic of Mauritius in the season-ending MCB Tour Championship. He also has a ticket punched to the U.S. Senior Open.
"If someone had told me that I would win once this year, I would probably not believe them," said Thelen, a PGA member since 1996. "If someone said I would win three times, I really wouldn't believe it. But, here I am. Last year, I had a decent year. I knew I could compete out here.
"I've always been a grinder and having grown up in Minnesota and then played in Texas most of my life, I was acclimated to almost any kind of weather."
Thelen's reward for his stunning season is to travel nearly 23 hours to The Republic of Mauritius, an island 1,200 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa. The field will feature any major champion from the Champions Tour or PGA Tour, provided they have reached age 50-or-older. Tom Lehman is the defending MCB Tour Champion.
"Learning how to travel as a club professional in the continental United States is one thing but you really have to adjust to all the travel connected on Tour," said Thelen. "I am feeling more comfortable about it, and what is great to develop some close friendships. It's really a fantastic tour."
If there are any other tools of the trade one must carry well, it is an ability to putt. Thelen has never had many disasters on the greens.
"I've always been a good putter all my life," said Thelen. "This year, the difference is that I have had the confidence to drive it well as well as putt."
There will be a familiar face on Thelen's "team" next week, with his wife and longtime caddie, Lucinda, back on duty. She caddied for her husband in Europe, but was unable to make the trip to Taiwan due to her teaching position back in Texas.
"We had women caddies in Taiwan, and they drove the carts and brought out three clubs to us in the fairway," said Thelen. "My caddie said her name was 'Cindy," but that was about as much as I could understand. She certainly did a great job! It will be fun to have Lucinda back as caddie. She is retiring next May and we decided to travel to Italy. We've never seen the country."
Chances are the Thelen road show will play well in Italy.