At about the age most men seem to start to slow down, Smithfield’s golfing king Neal Lancaster is trying to avoid that.
Lancaster was at Prestonwood Country Club for the SAS Championship earlier this fall, and although he didn’t have the kind of performance he was hoping for on the links – finishing tied for 49th at 215 and earning $5,760 after shooting a first-round 68 and coming in two shots off the pace – he was happy to be on home territory.
“Actually, I was really happy the way I played,” Lancaster had said after Friday’s first round. “You know, could have been a little better, and the way I started out it could have been a little worse, so you never know. You want to be there on Sunday. One day doesn’t make the tournament.”
Plenty of senior golfers – Lancaster is one of the babies of the bunch at 51 – re-learn that every weekend.
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But he still has a soft spot in his heart for home territory, like Prestonwood.
“Since I turned 50 and even before, it’s been great to me,” Lancaster said. “(Prestonwood’s director of golf operations) Larry Connor came out and watched me finish on the last hole (on Friday). Actually he gave me a putting tip (in the event’s closed pro-am on Oct. 14).
“I told him, ‘Larry, could you watch me putt?’ He bent me over the ball more. Actually I’m starting to roll the ball on my line. (SAS CEO Jim) Goodnight and them have always been good to me – they gave me a sponsor exemption again this year and last year. …
“They just look after you real well. If you need something, they go out of their way to get it for you.”
The local fans seemed to love the Johnston County entry, who earned $110,139 this season. His best finishes came in the spring – tied for 15th at the Greater Gwinnett Championship and tied for 20th at the Senior PGA Championship.
He also played in six PGA Tour events, making the cut at the Farmer’s Insurance Open in January and the Texas Open in April.
While he tries to get back in a normal flow on the course physically before the start of the 2014 season, Lancaster and his wife Ashley are preparing for the arrival of their second child in December.
Gabby, the Lancaster’s 2 ½-year-old daughter, was right at home on daddy’s lap during the media session at the SAS Championship.
“Actually, most of the people are having grandkids, I’m just starting to have kids on the Champions Tour,” he said. “I actually didn’t want to have kids while I was ... trying to really make my career, and then at 45 I started having some injuries and I told my wife, I said it’s time for us to start having kids, so we started having babies at 50 – she’s 42.
“So we started having children and this is going to be great because – this is kind of a joke –everybody says, ‘Aren’t you kind of old to have kids?’ I said, ‘At least you can die and leave them something when you’re old.’
That’s why he has something of a reputation as the tour’s resident comedian.
But the little ones will give the Lancasters something to do during the off-season of the tour. And he’ll also get some time to recuperate.
“This season I’ve had some problems,” he said. “I’d kind of retired at 45 because I had some surgeries. I had a lipoma in my back the size of a fist, the back of my left shoulder, and they removed that.
“Then I had kind of reconstructive shoulder surgery on my left shoulder and then I never got any better, I couldn’t get the swelling off and I went to see my brother-in-law in Columbus, Georgia. After about two years I tried to come back and I couldn’t, I just couldn’t get the swelling off, and I had three ruptured disks in my neck so I had those fixed.
“So I’ve had two shoulder surgeries, three ruptured disks in my neck, and at this age you’ve got to stretch or you feel it more. Like (when I have to wait) on a hole for (to hit a shot a few) minutes, and boy I really can tell I’m 51 years old.”