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Column: Veteran golfer hungry for more

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:36 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 10, 2014 9:37 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/
Salley Wessels of Mount Morris chips onto the 18th green at Emerald Hill during the 2008 Women's Lincoln Highway golf tournament in Sterling. Wessels will compete for Sunset in this year's event that starts on Friday.

Salley Wessels uttered something that makes perfect sense to me late Wednesday afternoon.

While sitting in the clubhouse at Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris, someone complimented Wessels on her clothing and asked if she had lost some weight this summer. She smiled, and then said yes, she indeed may have lost a few pounds.

"During the summer, I'd rather golf than eat," she said. "During the winter, that's when I eat."

For the 74-year-old Wessels, golf is king this time of the year. She gives junior lessons, works part-time at Ingersoll Golf Course in Rockford, and either practices or plays most days at Sunset.

That last option is incredibly easy for her. She and her husband of 49 years, Phil, have lived in the same home on Sunset Lane in Mount Morris since 1972. The home is a well-struck sand wedge away from the first green at Sunset, and Wessels is a regular on the practice range.

She walks over to the range, just like she prefers to walk during her rounds on the course.

"It gives you a chance to think out there," she said. "If you hit a bad one, you can stomp the ground a little bit, and go on from there."

Wessels was a school teacher in Rockford, Arlington Heights, and Dixon, before coming to Mount Morris in 1972. It was around that time that Title IX was passed, giving girls athletic opportunities they hadn't had before.

Wessels, a P.E. teacher, started, or helped start, high school girls volleyball, basketball, track, tennis, and field hockey programs in Mount Morris.

When boys golf was dropped for budgetary reasons in the mid 1980s, she became a volunteer coach so her sons, Thad and Seth, as well as a host of others, had a chance to compete. She and other parents drove the boys to matches and tournaments on their own dime.

The school reinstated the golf program in the early 1990s, and Wessels continued as their coach. A high school tournament that bears her name is played each September at Sunset.

That serves as a reminder of her considerable golfing skill. She won the Rockford City Championship 13 times, the Illinois State Senior Amateur eight times, and in 1977, the Illinois Women's Amateur.

She also competed in the United States Senior Amateur 10 times, the U.S. Public Links eight times, and the U.S. Mid-Amateur five times.

She hasn't competed in too many Women's Lincoln Highway tournaments, but will this weekend, in part because Sunset is the host course. She'll be paired in the first round with another seasoned veteran, Kishwaukee's Ruth Heal.

"I lover playing golf with Ruth," Wessels said, "not only because she's a fine golfer, but because she says whatever is on her mind at a given time. She's so fun to be around."

On most Links With Locals rounds, I keep score for me and my partners, but not this time around. Wessels played some holes from the championship tees back with me, and others from the ladies tees, where she'll be hitting from on Friday. We skipped a hole, when some slow players got in our way.

Me, I wore my eyeglasses, which I virtually never do on the golf course. Depth perception was an issue, at least I think it was, when I shanked my second shot from a tricky lie on the third hole. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Neither one of us brought our A games, and really couldn't care less. Playing good golf took a back seat to having a good conversation, which we did for nearly 2 hours on a sunny afternoon.

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