Sam Till Jr.

City victory left him with one more goal

Sam Till Jr., photography by Neal Bruns

Fort Wayne can lay claim to a couple of golfing dynasties. Last year’s Men’s City Champion and Men’s Senior Champion certainly fit into that category.

Sam Till Jr. felt like the elder as he worked his way around Coyote Creek last July, surrounded by many players half his age of 62 at the time. It would become his fifth win in the men’s championship. He had one more goal for the year:

Play well and win the Senior Golf Association Championship.

With a spectacular 105-yard sand wedge on the first playoff hole against Tom Brown, Till holed for an eagle and claimed that fifth senior title. Till also became the first man to win both the men’s city and senior titles in the same year.

The family count now includes his 10 victories and two Women’s City Championships by daughter Jessica, for a total of 12. While Tom Kelley still holds the men’s city record with nine titles, Till feels a great deal of satisfaction with his and the family’s success at the game. Even so, he’s not one to brag.

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Till attended Central Catholic High School. He went on to college at St. Joseph in Rensselaer, Indiana. He has been married to SueAnne for 41 years this year.

“My brother Larry and I went out to Elks Country Club when I was 10 and were hired to caddy by John Schumaker. He’s the father of two other well-known city golfers, Bill and Dave. Dave has won men’s city five times and Bill twice,” Till said.

“Caddies got to play on Mondays. I didn’t really have my own set in those days, so I borrowed a neighbor’s set. I got hooked.”

A State Farm agent since 1980, Till has decorated the foyer to his office as a beginning of an office-wide tour of how much he “got hooked.”

Trophies from nine city titles in men’s and senior’s events rest next to lots of metal from his two U.S. Senior Challenge victories, two Golfweek magazine Senior Tour championships and many more.

In his office, one wall holds a prized photo of Orchard Ridge Country Club from the air. It represents Till’s 1998 men’s city win and features the signatures of all the players that year.

“I remember signing it and thinking ‘This would be cool to win,'” Till said. He did, taking his fourth city title. He credits his successes to playing tournaments and competing against others since 1964.

Till, father of three, loves to talk about Fort Wayne Junior Golf events back in the ’60s.

Formed and managed by Dottie Collins, who pitched six seasons in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League for the Fort Wayne Daisies, they were Till’s first taste of competitive golf.

“My first attempt in the Junior event was in the third flight. That’s how bad I was in those days,” he said, referring to how tournaments are set up, with first flight being the best players.

“Even so, winning or not, I was learning the game, learning the rules, how to score, and that really established a foundation for me. My first actual win was in 1967 in a Junior Golf Match Play event,” he said.

Nowadays, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation holds an annual Pee Wee/Junior Golf Tour.

Till also remembers some of the other names playing back then. Many have established themselves as both professionals and multiple city tournament winners.

“I was playing against people my age like Tom Inskeep (one win), Tom Kelley (nine wins), both Schumaker brothers (total seven) and Billy Kratzert, former PGA pro with four PGA wins.” Kratzert remains on the golfing forefront as a course reporter for ESPN and golf analyst on SportsCenter.

With these players as his peers, it just might be that the 2015 win was the most satisfying, as Till was among the elders still playing. And winning.

“It was real important to me,” Till said. “I grew up with this tournament. The 2015 event felt like my experience would be an asset and I could win.

“Last year was very different as I didn’t know a lot of those players, compared to my previous wins,” he said. It also didn’t hurt that Till had joined Coyote Creek in 2014 and felt good playing his home course.

“I have a membership at Sycamore Hills but took a year off for medical reasons,” Till said.

“I had back surgery on April 17 last year but had recovered enough to play in the July men’s.

“About a week before the tournament, I relaxed and went to the lake with the grandkids. No golf at all,” he said. When it was time to play, Till was consistent all three days, shooting 70, 70 and 73 for a -3 54-hole total, besting 2014 champion Aaron Walters by two.

Till expects to keep competing and will definitely defend his title this year. Should he win, it would be his sixth men’s city victory and place him in a group all by himself. He’d also need to find room for another trophy to add to his nearly full office.

First appeared in the 2016 Fort Wayne Magazine’s Golf Guide.


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