November 3, 2006
This past golf season was like no other for Pete Oakley.
The Director of Golf for The Rookery had high hopes for the 2006 competitive season, with a few events on the PGA Champions Tour and plans for a full schedule on the PGA European Tour with his older brother David.
After earning some nice change at the Mastercard Championship in Hawaii in January, Pete traveled to Barbados in March for the opening round of the European Tour. His brother David played well. A four time winner on the European Tour, he shot a 67 in the final round to tie for thirteenth place, while Pete finished fourteen spots back.
During the tournament, however, Pete couldn’t help noticing that his brother had an unusual cough. At the time they were thinking that it was nothing too serious, but a series of tests after the tournament brought back awful news.
David had developed a mortal case of lung cancer.
The Barbados event was his last on the Tour, as Pete and David’s family began to help him with chemotherapy and other attempts to alleviate his condition.
Unfortunately, nothing helped, and David Oakley died at age 61 on July 2.
“David and his wife Doris had a terrific marriage,” Oakley said recently. “Until the cancer hit him, he was the picture of health.” In addition to his widow, David left behind two sons, Christopher and Jamie.
His brother’s terminal illness also took its toll on Pete, especially when he tried to return to professional competition. “For a while there, I don’t think I broke 80,” he said.
Shortly after David died, Pete returned to golf for the U.S. Senior Open and the British Senior Open, but missed the cut in both events. He finished in 71st place in the final senior major of the year, the Jeld-Wen Tradition in late August.
He also staggered through two European Senior events in August, finishing no better than 49th. Not long thereafter, however, Oakley’s game began returning.
Oakley finished in 10th place in the Charles Church Scottish Senior Open in early September. In the next week, he took 8th place honors for his best tournament finish of the year, at the European Senior Masters Tournament at the Woburn Golf Club.
He slipped a bit during his next event, falling to 50th in a tournament in Spain, but then bounced back to the 23rd spot at the Estoril Seniors Open in Portugal.
When we talked, Oakley was preparing to leave the States for Bahrain for the final 2006 event on the European Tour, the Seniors Tour Championship, scheduled for November 9-11. “I’m in 33rd place right now, and I want to finish high. On the other hand, all of the guys who are ahead of me on the list are also going to be there.”
Oakley was also hopeful about his chances to play more events on the PGA Champions Tour for the 2007 season, thanks to a change in the qualifying process.
As he described it, non-exempt players such as him were formerly required to either earn exempt status in the fall Q-School, or compete for two spots in a Monday qualifying round for each week. As the 2004 Senior British Open champion, Oakley automatically qualified for a few major events, but not the regular weekly events.
Under the new rules, Oakley and similar players can join the 30 high finishers from this year’s Q-School on each Monday, and play to earn one of 9 spots in that week’s event.
“This will really increase my chances to play here, in addition to what I’ll play in Europe. I can shoot a 69 on a Monday and have a real shot at playing for the weekend. With only two spots, if I shot a 69 I’d just be going down the road to the next event instead.”
Pete continues to mourn David’s passing, as one would expect about two brothers who shared a mutual passion and talent for their chosen sport. I also had the distinct impression that he was dedicating his next season to the memory of his older brother.
Good luck to him.