FRENCH LICK, Ind. – John Sajevic is back for a ninth USGA Men’s State Team Championship because someone else’s back flared up and opened a spot on Nebraska’s team.
The oldest competitor in the 52-team, 156-player field at 58, Sajevic, of Fremont, Neb., wasn’t supposed to compete, but when 55-year-old Dave Clouse had to withdraw three weeks ago, Sajevic got the call.
Sajevic’s return turned the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort into a family reunion of sorts. Sajevic’s 24-year-old son, Andrew, had already earned a spot on the three-man team based on the two-year points system utilized by the Nebraska Golf Association. So with John’s late addition, it made the Sajevics the first father-son duo to ever tee it up in the 19-year history of the biennial championship.
Father’s Day came in September instead of June.
It’s pretty unfortunate that he couldn’t come, said Andrew of Clouse. Dave’s a great player and he would have been a good member of this team. But it’s unique to have the father and son here together. For both of us to be here is pretty special. It’s a week that I don’t think either of us will forget anytime soon.
Clouse won this year’s Nebraska Amateur, but when he talked to University of Nebraska men’s golf coach Bill Spangler, whose team had competed in the Big Ten Championship on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, he was told the hilly topography might not be conducive for a golfer with an ailing back. So in early September, John was added as the first alternate.
It’s something I didn’t know would happen, said John, who posted a team-best 2-over-par 74 in Tuesday’s opening round. And it did.
This isn’t the first time John and Andrew Sajevic have made history. Last year, Andrew claimed the Nebraska Amateur (stroke play) and Nebraska Match Play titles, making the Sajevics the first father-son duo to have claimed both championships in the same year. John won both in 1989.
John and Andrew carded a 62 to earn medalist honors on Aug. 26 at their U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship qualifier at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha. John made three birdies and an eagle while Andrew carded six birdies.
This week has provided John and Andrew a chance to enjoy some father-son bonding time on the golf course, something that had not occurred a lot the past few years with Andrew at the University of North Carolina, where he competed for the school’s golf team and graduated in May.
While they played in many NGA events during the summer, John’s work schedule and Andrew’s college curriculum limited their time together.
We’ll sneak out in the evening and have a little friendly wager now and then, said John, who is a general manager/salesman for the family-run car dealership in Fremont, a town of 25,000 30 miles west of Omaha and an hour northwest of Lincoln. It’s not easy to beat him. [The golf is] pretty scrappy.
But the elder Sajevic got the best of his son on Tuesday, beating him by four strokes as Nebraska – 38-year-old Ryan Nietfeldt, of Elkhorn, is the third team member – posted an 8-over 152 for a share of 32nd place.
Andrew has been trying to chase his father’s accomplishments for as long as he can remember. He says he was 14 or 15 when he first beat him and that he needed to shoot 3 under par to accomplish the feat. The elder Sajevic has competed in 12 USGA championships, including the 1996 U.S. Amateur, 2004 U.S. Mid-Amateur and 2011 U.S. Senior Amateur. Andrew, a three-time Nebraska Amateur champion, has now played in four USGA championships, but failed to qualify for match play in his U.S. Junior Amateur (2008) and U.S. Amateur (2009 and 2010) appearances.
It happens more often than I would like, said Andrew of his father besting him on the course. It has been tons of fun to play against each other in tournaments. I’m very blessed. He’s been a big influence. The relationship we have together is pretty special.
Andrew, who is getting married next July, also has followed his father’s footsteps into the car business, at least for the time being. Like a lot of recent college graduates, Andrew is still trying to figure out a career path, although professional golf doesn’t seem to be an option. John, who has been in the car business for a quarter-century, said Andrew and his 25-year-old sister, Sara, have helped tremendously at the dealership (Buick, Mazda, GMC and Cadillac), especially with the Internet. While selling cars is driven by personal relationships with customers, the digital age has drastically changed how business is conducted.
It’s a challenging business, said John, who does a little of everything at the dealership. Things are changing so much … because of the Internet. It’s getting people to meet us. It’s a people business.
It’s one reason John, despite being several years older than Nietfeldt and Andrew, has been able to seamlessly blend in with his younger teammates. In fact, John met Andrew and NGA assistant executive director Justin Ahrens, who had driven from Nebraska, in St. Louis on Saturday after flying from Arizona, where he had business meetings. Nietfeldt also joined the group in St. Louis before the foursome made the short drive to French Lick.
The team enjoyed a practice round on Monday and have dined and socialized together during the evening hours.
When asked where this experience ranks in his golf career, John said, It is right up there. I qualified for the 2011 Senior Am and won a match. But to be able to do this with [Andrew] is pretty special.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.