COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Dave Delich is chasing glory 28 years after coming up just short of making the 1980 Olympic hockey team that stunned the world at Lake Placid.
The 51-year-old golfer’s new dream is a bit of a long shot: hoisting the U.S. Senior Open trophy at The Broadmoor, where he’s a member and a six-time club champion.
Delich, the leading scorer in Colorado College hockey history and a one-time member of the Minnesota North Stars, fired a 6-over 76 Thursday, collecting six bogeys on the difficult back nine, where he left several putts short on the surprisingly soft greens.
The field of 156 will be trimmed Friday to the lowest 60 scores and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader.
Fred Funk shot the best round Thursday, carding a 5-under 65 that included four birdies and an eagle. He’s one stroke ahead of John Cook, who bounced back from a collapse at the Senior British Open on Sunday with a 66.
Delich had the honor of hitting the first tee shot of the tournament at his home course, and he felt nerves like he used to feel before hitting the ice and checking somebody into the boards, he said.
“The first tee was frankly more difficult than I thought it would be,” Delich said. “But I made a good swing and the nerves went away absolutely five feet off the tee box. And I didn’t have them all day again.”
Delich didn’t expect to see so many friends and have so many butterflies when he stepped up to his ball at 7:15 a.m. on the first hole.
“I was just happy to get it in the air,” said Delich, noting it’s easier to settle one’s nerves on the ice than on the links.
“Someone drops the puck, someone hits you in the face, there are not any more nerves, that’s the game,” he said. “There’s no place out here to just kind of shake them.
“After I hit balls (on the practice range), I went for a jog, I ran over to the clubhouse just to breathe a little harder and try to calm down a bit. So, I don’t think there’s a whole lot you can do on the golf course other than have the experience of going through it.
“The difference with hockey is you’re nervous, you’ve got all that anxiety, and you’re ready to go. But the first shift, you get out there and you pop somebody or somebody pops you, and then the game’s on, the nerves are gone.”
Delich played for Herb Brooks for seven months in 1979-80 but failed to make the 20-man Olympic roster that made history by beating the heavily favored Soviet Union and then Finland for the gold medal.
Delich was playing minor league hockey in Oklahoma City, the North Stars’ top affiliate, and watching on TV with the rest of America when he heard Al Michaels’ breathless call as the Americans stunned the U.S.S.R.
“Yeah, I got the benefit of Herbie and none of the pleasure. Wish I could have played for Herbie longer,” Delich said. “Could he have made me a better hockey player.”
Looking back, Delich figures he made him a better golfer, though, because the lessons he learned translated into the rest of his life’s pursuits.
Hockey was always in Delich’s blood. Golf was his fallback.
“My dreams were pretty big for hockey and I have to tell you, most of them were fulfilled. I didn’t think that I would see and do the things I did by the time I was 25 or 26 years old,” Delich said.
There were all those trips with the U.S. junior teams behind the Iron Curtain “when it was a real Iron Curtain,” the trip to Tokyo for the World Championships, tours all over Asia, Europe and the Eastern bloc.
“To wear an American jersey was pretty exciting,” Delich said. “I would guess it’s kind of your Curtis Cup/Walker Cup/Ryder Cup kind of environment. Golf is an individual game, and occasionally you get to represent your country. There is nothing more special that you will ever do in sport.
“The millions, I guess, are nice, and people like that, but you want nerves and apprehension, put that jersey on one time.”
Delich, though, isn’t chasing his latest dream to make up for missing out on that one so many years ago.
“I watched, just like everybody else, and was thoroughly excited,” Delich said. “I never felt one ounce of regret or ‘should have been there.’ I’m just thankful that they had the right guys there at that time to win.”
Although he wasn’t on the ice when the Americans beat the Russians in the chill of the Cold War, he was there for the blood and sweat that went into it.
“It was a long winter, it was a measurable winter. Herbie was a very, very, very demanding and difficult coach to play for,” Delich said. “You don’t know if you played harder to prove him wrong about something, or if you just were mad at him all the time. That was part of his philosophy. He didn’t want friends. He wanted everybody (ticked) off all the time and fighting each other for jobs and fighting him and fighting everything else.”
Molding a winner, and leaving a lasting impression on the man who didn’t make the final cut.
“Well, no question,” Delich said. “You don’t ever give up. You don’t quit.”
Not on yourself, not on your dreams.