When Charles Hartline turned 50 five years ago, everyone expected the Aiken golfer to start winning Regions Cup senior division titles at a steady rate.
For years, he'd been one of the better players in the "regular" division of the circuit, even winning the Orville White Cup in 1982.
Certainly, he'd clean up in the over-50 division, where there were fewer players and less depth.
Who'd believe that Hartline's first senior victory would come at age 55, after more than 30 tournaments and just seven months removed from open-heart surgery.
No matter. As Hartline said after that first win, at the Persimmon Hill/North Augusta Exchange Club Classic on Sunday, he'll take it.
The victory was long overdue for the man who had finished second in so many Regions Cup senior events that he'd lost count.
Even Ed Payne, who has won more senior titles (12) than any other golfer, told Hartline after his opening 68 at Persimmon Hill that it was time for him to win one.
Hartline followed the 68 with a 72, then beat Barry Hanson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
"I always felt like I could win one, that I had the capability to win one," Hartline said. "I thought one day I'd play a solid first round and then get hot in the second round and pass some people, but it never happened."
Putting two strong rounds together had been the problem for Hartline. In the 2001 Persimmon Hill tournament, he was also the first-round leader, with a 68. But he shot a final-round 80 to finish tied for sixth place.
Unlike some of the top seniors, such as Payne and Michael Benham, Hartline is still a working man. That means he can't work on his game whenever he wants to.
"I always think about practicing after work, but I never do it," said Hartline, who is a salesman. "My game is just a weekend game. I come out on Saturday and Sunday, and take what it gives me. When I'm on, I can shoot some good scores."
The Persimmon Hill victory was steeped in emotion. Not only was it Hartline's first victory, but it also came on Father's Day.
Hartline's father, Henry Hartline, died in October 2000 at age 82.
"I was thinking about him," said Hartline, who dedicated the victory to his father. "He didn't play golf, but he always supported me in all the sports I played. He was just a fabulous man."
Adding more emotion to the victory was the physical problems Hartline has experienced in the past year.
It was after the Persimmon Hill tournament in 2001 that Hartline first complained of fatigue. Later in the summer, at his home course of Houndslake Country Club, he had another episode.
"Both times, all the energy went out of me all of a sudden," Hartline said.
After a battery of tests, it was discovered Hartline had a heart problem. He underwent triple-bypass surgery Nov. 15.
"Being an avid golfer, the first thing I asked the doctor was how long until I could hit golf balls," Hartline said. "He told me 12 weeks. I said, 'tell me what I've got to do to be playing in eight weeks."'
Hartline beat his goal. Seven weeks and two days after the surgery, he was hitting practice balls.
"A lot of people couldn't believe it," Hartline said.
The amazing part of it all is that Hartline has been the top senior player this season while still rounding into shape from the surgery.
"My stamina is better than last year, but I don't know how well I'm going to feel when I get into condition," Hartline said.
In addition to the Persimmon Hill victory, Hartline has finished second in the other two Regions Cup tournaments this season.
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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