The comparison to Tom Watson was eerily similar on this late August day at Worcester Country Club for Woburn’s Paul Parajeckas.
The former Woburn Country Club Director of Golf Operation, and long-time Woburn resident, walked up to mark his comebacker of some six feet. The 59-year-old Parajeckas heard someone in the crowd mention to someone else “how this is just like Tom Watson at Turnberry.”
Watson, at age 59, led the British Open on the 72nd hole when he three-putted from the fringe, missing an eight-footer that would have given him perhaps the greatest major championship win in golf history. Now Parajeckas was six feet away from New England PGA history as all that really stood in his way was sinking this six-footer.
“I got to where I thought I was in my backyard with the putt,” said Parajeckas. “I just said to myself ‘just put a good stroke on it.’”
Parajeckas, who has been the head pro at Pleasant Valley in Sutton since the summer of 2007, calmly made the putt and when second-round co-leader Jim Burke could not get a 35-foot birdie putt to go, Parajeckas had won the NEPGA championship with an even-par 211 over the three-day tournament. The victory not only meant winning his PGA section’s the most prestigious tournament, but it also meant Parajeckas made history and became the oldest player (by far) to win the event. The previous oldest was 43 years old.
His driver’s license may say he is 59 but Parajeckas’ appearance belies his age. Slim and trim at 5-10 and 165 pounds the former part-time Champions’ Tour player is seemingly ageless. Legendary golfer Gary Player gave Parajeckas the ultimate compliment when the two were paired, along with another legend, Arnold Palmer, at Nashawtuc for the old Bank of American championship in 2005. “Paul, you are the perfect athlete, and you and I are very similar,” said Player.
Player played very competitively on the Champions Tour into his 70s. Player adhered to the philosophy of “working out more, and eating less.”
A few years ago perhaps the sectional championship would not have been a surprise if Parajeckas had won it. When he turned 50 back in April of 2000 he made a commitment to give the Champions Tour his best shot. He did get in 23 events in his career — earning $77,007 — but never found his niche on the senior tour. So when the Pleasant Valley head pro job opened up in 2007, it was time to step away from competitive golf and return to his local roots.
Local roots is what also made winning the NEPGA championship so special as Parajeckas was brought up in Worcester, playing his early golf at Green Hill where he also became an assistant pro. He was also a caddy at Worcester Country Club.
However, on the local PGA level Parajeckas has always been among the best players in the area having won two Wogan Awards as the sectional’s top player by an accumulation of points over tournaments played.
While he played in 10 NEPGA events this year, Parajeckas considers himself a part-time player and a head pro first. His participation in competitive events is very spotty.
Parajeckas ran Woburn Country Club for 23 years until 2001 when he gave his full attention to the Champions Tour. He still resides in Woburn and travels 100 miles a day on his commute from Woburn to Sutton, home of PV. He says he already has 44,000 miles on his 2009 year model car.
“Since I took the job at Pleasant Valley I have not worried about my game,” he said. “My career was all but over at that point.”
Parajeckas had been playing pretty well leading up to the NEPGA championship. He finished fifth in the NEPGA Senior Championship a little over two weeks prior to the sectional tournament. In July, he and his partner (Greg Yeomans) tied for first in the NEPGA Pro-Pro Stroke Play Championship.
But in the sectional championship, an event that had always eluded him victory-wise, here he was in contention after two rounds shooting a pair of 70s to be lurking in fourth place, just one shot off the lead that was held by three men.
“I remember someone asking me if I could win it,” Parajeckas recalled. “I thought I could. I’ve always been a fighter, a grinder. And I thought of Ted Kennedy who had died that day that he was always a fighter too.”
Parajeckas played steady to start his third round while the leaders were falling back. He was one-under through 12 when he double-bogeyed the par-3 13th. He steadied himself with a birdie on 15 to get one of those strokes back, but bogeyed 16.
“I stayed in the moment and did not allow myself to look ahead,” said Parajeckas. “I’ve been in this position before during Monday qualifying on the Champions Tour and just called on that experience.”
With his wife Lorrie following him around the course, and texting their 24-year-old son Jason, who is also a professional golfer, with updates, Jason would up joining his mother on the 15th hole which Parajeckas said made the event even more special.
After parring 17, Parajeckas felt he needed a par on 18 to be somewhat safe. His 20-foot putt rolled past the hole some six feet. The greens were tough and the conditions were windy during the final round on Wednesday making it a true test of golf for the professionals.
After he sank the six-footer he said he felt drained, much like Ben Crenshaw when he won the 1995 Masters, just an outpouring of emotion.
“It was a great three days,” said Parajeckas. “I was driving the ball perfect, but I needed to make a couple of putts down the end.
“It is just overwhelming,” said Parajeckas, less than 24 hours after the historic win. “Everyone has been calling or e-mailing, it’s been special. But, it is just sinking in that I’ve won this thing. It’s been a long time coming and I really wanted to win the NEPGA championship, which is our championship. It is like our Masters. Looks like I finally have got the monkey off my back.”