Leading up to his 2015 Indiana PGA Senior Open victory, Tony Pancake hadn’t dreamed of taking the tournament.
Heck, he hadn’t won a PGA tourney in 20 years — the last one wasn’t even in the Hoosier State.
Pancake, a 1981 Seymour High School graduate, conquered his weaknesses off the tees and shocked the competition, finishing ahead of Indiana PGA Senior Player of the Year winner John Dalcorobbo to win the tournament June 9.
After years of teaching, directing and playing, Pancake got over the slump.
“I really wasn’t prepared at all to play,” Pancake said with a smile. “Interestingly, I didn’t play well the first day but was able to hang in there. I was in fourth place, which is high for where I normally am.
“I was driving up there I thought, ‘If this is rained-out today I will get a top-five finish.’ I was really kind of uptight on the second day because my driver was not good on day one. I was just able to hit good shots early.
“In golf, one of the things is that your confidence comes and goes pretty quickly. It was crucial to get birdies.”
Finishing with a four-under after 36 holes, Pancake claimed his first PGA event in 20 years.
“I haven’t played as much competitive golf in the past few years,” Pancake said.
“ I’ve played in some tournaments this year, like the Indianapolis Open in May. It was great fun. I haven’t had a chance to win a tournament in a long time.”
For most of his life, the now 52-year-old Pancake has immersed himself in golf.
Pancake has maintained a relationship with the sport for years.
In 1981, headed by coach Bob Krietenstein, the Owls were ranked the No. 1 team in the state virtually all season.
Unfortunately, the Owls struggled in the state finals and weren’t able to take the IHSAA crown.
Pancake was named first-team all-state in 1981 and decided to accept a scholarship offer to the University of Alabama.
But Pancake struggled with his game transitioning to college.
Competition just wasn’t the same.
Following his sophomore year with the Crimson Tide, Pancake decided to leave the team and work as an assistant pro at the NorthRiver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa.
“It was difficult giving up playing in college, but it was a good career move for me,” Pancake said. “I kind of lost my game when I was in college. When I got to school, I realized the level of competition was a lot higher than I had expected it to be.
“I really started trying to change my game around to get to that level, but I kind of lost my game for a while. It really wasn’t until I became a club professional, and really got into teaching that I learned how to play better again.”
After earning his degree, Pancake bounced around the country working at different top-100 golf courses.
His first position was in North Carolina under legendary Golf Digest instructor Jack Lumpkin, where he worked as an assistant.
Following two years with Lumpkin, Pancake got his first head professional job at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
Pancake worked at Valhalla for 10 years, starting in 1988, before moving to Baltimore to work at the Baltimore Country Club.
Then, after six years, Pancake came back to Indiana to work at Crooked Stick as a head professional.
The past six years, Pancake has worked as the director of Golf and Club Operations in Carmel.
These days, Pancake occasionally plays in local tournaments, but doesn’t venture much outside the state.
“Honestly, I’m not a great player,” Pancake said. “I just happened to play great one tournament. Most of the tournaments I play in are local. The ones I travel to are pro-ams.
“Competitive golf is almost like a hobby for me. Its something that I enjoy. It kind of motivates me to improve my game and keep it in shape. It’s also a way to interact with other golf professionals from across the state.”
Moving back to Indiana was important to Pancake in raising a family.
“My wife and I are both from Indiana,” Pancake said. “We missed the Midwest and we wanted to raise our kids here, closer to their grandparents. In Indiana I wanted to be at a top club, so Crooked Stick was kind of the one place I could come to. I was fortunate to get the job. I love being in Indiana and being at this club.”
Pancake said that golf brought him and his wife, Libby (Akers) together. Akers, from French Lick, was a standout golfer.
“My wife was actually a phenomenal golfer,” Pancake said. “She’s in the Indiana High School Golf Hall of Fame. She won pretty much everything possible and was a four time All-American. She doesn’t play much anymore, but I’m sure she would still be great.”
A family man, Pancake enjoys spending time with his kids on the golf course.
His daughter, Allie, played at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, and son TJ competed with the Cedarville University (Ohio) golf team. Both are now graduated.
Trent Pancake, Tony’s other son, currently manages the golf team at Purdue while his youngest child, Annabelle, is playing competitive golf heading into eighth grade.
“As a golf professional, I spend a lot of time at my job,” Pancake said. “Luckily for me, the places I’ve worked have allowed me to come and play and practice which gives me a chance to hang out with them.”
While he had a short stint in Seymour, the city remains special to Pancake.
“I have great memories of my time in Seymour playing golf,” Pancake said. “I grew up at the Seymour Country Club. I was fortunate enough to have some people take interest in me and my game. I really wasn’t a golfer. I loved basketball, baseball and all sports. I started playing when I was 13 and I had some people willing to help me get better.”
For Pancake, golf offers much more than recreation.
“I love to play, the challenge of the game,” Pancake said. “There’s that pursuit of having an incredible round. For me, I know I can influence young people. I was fortunate to people share a lot of wisdom about golf and life, through golf, that I feel an obligation to pass that on to the next generation.”
The links look to be a part of Pancake’s life for years to come.
“Golf is a very challenging sport, but it’s also contagious,” Pancake said. “When you hit enough shots, you’ll eventually hit one on the sweet spot of the club and it will go a long way and feel great. You think ‘Wow, that was awesome. I want to do it again.’
“You just keep trying. You kind of get hooked on golf. The other thing about golf is that it’s a great game for families. Everyone can play. It’s a great game for a lifetime, you can play as you get older.”