His arrival has sparked unexpected interest in the senior circuit back home, but now Andre Stolz is ready to go toe-to-toe with golf’s greats at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Michigan.
The 51-year-old former PGA Tour winner is at Harbor Shores Resort by virtue of winning the 2021 SParms PGA Legends Tour Order of Merit, a year of dominance in which he won eight times and finished more than $11,000 clear of Brad Burns.
Stolz is one of 10 Aussies in the field for the second senior Major of 2022, including Victorian left-hander Richard Green, who also recently qualified for the US Senior Open along with John Senden and Mark Hensby (David McKenzie and Gavin Coles are alternates).
A poor start proved costly for Stolz at US Senior Open qualifying, but he has spent the past month in the US attempting to qualify for PGA Tour Champions events and playing money games in Tennessee to get his game ready for the Senior PGA.
It is a significant step up in class, yet Stolz has been surprised by the level of interest among fellow Australians in the Legends Tour back home.
“On the range today it was quite frustrating because I was trying to get some serious work done but there are so many blokes I haven’t seen for years,” Stolz said.
“[Robert] Allenby, [Stuart] Appleby, John Senden, one of my old best mates from years ago, [Stephen] Leaney who I used to play a lot of practice rounds with, [Rod] Pampling who is just a great bloke and hasn’t changed a bit. I haven’t seen a lot of them for a long time so every one of them walked past me on the range and stopped for a yak.
“This week is a great opportunity. It’s great that the Aussie tour has found a way to get us a spot over here and give whoever wins the moneylist a taste of it.
“What I’ve noticed, all the guys over here have watched that stuff. Allenby and these guys, they’re all asking me what the events are like back home.
“I was shocked. They all knew how many events I’d won, they’re actually watching it. And they’re all interested in how the events are run.
“It made me think that if we could get half a dozen decent-sized events back-to-back when there’s no Champions Tour events we might be a chance of getting these guys to come back and play.”
That Stolz is playing this week at all is testament to his talent and determination. A PGA Tour career constantly disrupted by injury – most notably issues with his wrist – convinced Stolz to quit the game altogether at 44 years of age.
He didn’t play or even own a set of golf clubs for five years before his looming 50th birthday instigated a nagging thought in the back of his mind that couldn’t be ignored.
“I didn’t want to have any regrets when I’m in my mid-50s that I didn’t even try and play golf again,” admitted Stolz, who has been drawn to play alongside Charlie Wi and PGA professional Alan Morin in the opening two rounds.
“I had to rebuild my swing and change everything so for me it was more about testing the limits of how good I could be again.
“My swing is crazy short now compared to being silly long. It’s not that it’s hurting my distance it’s more to alleviate the issues on my body and my wrist.
“All the effort I put in was to see how good I could get again.”
He knows there is little he can do to rid himself of the competitive rust that has built up in the past two months, but given his success back home during the past 18 months Stolz knows he has the game to compete on the Champions tour in future.
“I’ve been practising and playing pretty much every day since I’ve been here but you’re missing the competition, that sharp edge,” he conceded.
“That’s something I’ve got to get through but otherwise my game feels all right.
“For me it feels like where I should be; the hard part is getting a go over here. Give me three or four tournaments to get some momentum going and some feel going of playing tournament golf again, I feel like I’d be fine.
“You’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle for one week, which is never easy.
“It is good over here – I’ve always loved it – but unfortunately these blokes are damn good so playing good’s not good enough.
“You’ve got to be playing incredibly to break out and get amongst it.”