Friend falls back on PGA experience

PITTSBURGH – The days of competitive golf have dwindled for Bob Friend. Yet, the 49-year-old from Pittsburgh manages to find a way to stay in contention when the West Virginia Open rolls around each summer.

Friend has had several close calls, but each time the coveted prize has eluded the former PGA Tour professional. He recalls a third-place showing in 2005, finishing runner-up at Lakeview Golf Resort in Morgantown and losing in a playoff to six-time champion David Bradshaw two years ago.

Friend is one of 120 golfers who will be in the field for the 80th West Virginia Open scheduled for June 17-21 at Parkersburg Country Club in Vienna.

“This year’s West Virginia Open is the first tournament golf I’ve played since October,” Friend said. “Bobby Jones used to say there is golf and there is tournament golf. I have a good pedigree and came close to winning, but I compete in maybe four tournaments a year.”

Friend was raised by parents who were good role models for their son. His father, also Bob Friend, pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a member of the 1960 World Championship team.

Through his father’s contribution to the Pittsburgh Pirates alumni association, the younger Bob Friend has formed ties with former major league players like Bill Mazeroski, Roy Face, Dick Groat and Vern Law. He also had the opportunity to meet Roberto Clemente.

While baseball paved the way for the father, golf created a future for the son. Bob Friend dabbled in baseball, football and wrestling, but the golf course turned out to be his calling.

“It was something about the game that lit my fire,” Friend said. “I had an advantage because my father was a professional athlete and knew exactly what it took to get to that next level. It took a lot of hard work and lot of sacrifice.”

“I’m very blessed to have wonderful parents.”

Friend joined the Ben Hogan Tour (now the Tour) in 1990 and recorded five top 10 finishes. In 1992, not only did he win the Fort Wayne Open, but he also earned his PGA Tour card through qualifying school. He placed 137th on the PGA money list and earned partial status for the following year.

On two more occasions, Friend went through Q-school to earn his PGA Tour card – first for the 1998 season and again in 2000. His final run in the professional ranks occurred on the Nationwide Tour between 2001-03.

Even though he never made the cut, Friend competed in the U.S. Open four times and the PGA Championship once.

“The PGA Tour was everything that it lived up to be for myself,” Friend said. “Professionally, it was the greatest time of my life. I enjoyed every moment being around a great bunch of guys.

“But at 40 years old, I was not playing very well and was not enjoying it as much as I once did.”

Currently, Friends wears a few different hats. In addition to being the featured guest on radio for a weekly golf show called “Tee to Green,” he is the director of golf operations at Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown. The facility is ranked the No. 1 course in West Virginia and 45th in the country.

His recent visit to Parkersburg Country Club for the West Virginia Open Media Day was the first time he played the course.

“I was very impressed,” Friend said. “It’s an old-school type of golf course. It is very narrow and driving the ball will be more about precision. I look forward to competing on it.”

As for contending at the West Virginia Open, Friend guarantees the competitive juices will be flowing.

“I’ve played more than 150 PGA and 300 ( events, so once I get out there and get that first ball airborne it will all come back for me,” Friend said. “The goal is to give myself an opportunity to win the golf tournament. I want to get in position and see what happens.”