THOMSON — Winning the senior division at the Camellia Classic was an unexpected bonus for Aiken’s Jeff Roberts, who is just happy to be playing golf again after not touching a club for more than four years following a second back operation.
“This is about as good a golf fantasy as a local amateur gets,” Roberts said Sunday after closing with 3-over-par 75 to win by a shot over Owen Chivers at Belle Meade Country Club.
Roberts, who opened with 72, finished at 3-over 147 in the third Regions Bank Amateur Series event of the season. Chivers shot 76-72.
In the regular division, North Augusta’s Jeff Pope won his second consecutive tournament – and the fourth in his past five starts – shooting 70-72. He won by three shots over Brendan Fisher (73 on Sunday), Rick Hopper (73) and Jesse Key (75).
“I’m playing a lot better tournament golf I’ve ever played,” said Pope, 46, who will try to extend his winning streak in two weeks in the next event, at Persimmon Hill Golf Club.
Roberts, 56, missed nearly five years in the series after back surgery derailed his promising senior career. He has won a senior event in 2006 and had four runner-up finishes in the middle of the 2007 season when the pain got to be too much. He had developed a hairline fracture in his lumbar, which had been fused in a 2003 operation, leading to a second surgery in May 2008.
Before he returned to the series three weeks ago, finishing third at Houndslake County Club, Roberts had not played in a Regions event since July 2008 in the Augusta City Amateur.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get to play again,” said Roberts, who was “scared to play” because he didn’t want to go through back problems again.
After working with a physical therapist and getting the urge to play again when he started as a volunteer coach for the Aiken High golf team in 2007, Roberts went to his neurosurgeon and asked whether he could play.
“He told me that I had more titanium in my back than my driver and that it wouldn’t hurt no matter how hard I swung,” Roberts said.