Wargo a Go-Go

updated 05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1993 01:00AM

WHEN FANS TRIED TO FIGURE WHO might win the PGA Seniors Championship in Palm Beach last week, the usual names came to mind—Nicklaus, Trevino, Player. One that did not come to mind was Tom Wargo. First, outside of his immediate family, almost nobody knew who Tom Wargo was. Second, those who did know weren't putting much faith in a onetime autoworker turned self-taught club pro who had barely qualified to play in the tournament. So when Tom Wargo, 50, beat the odds—not to mention a pantheon of golfing immortals—his wife, Irene, wept tears of joy. Wargo weeps too, thinking of it.

And why not? Success has never come easy to Tom Wargo. Reared on an 80-acre dairy farm in Mayville, Mich., he didn't even pick up a golf club until he was 21. Then a friend suggested they play a round. "I never laughed so hard," says Wargo. "The ball was flying around."

But Wargo's interest in the game had been piqued. When he was 25 and working on a GM assembly line, he decided to take up golf seriously. Instructional articles only confused him, so he headed over to a local public course. "I'd hit balls until my hands would bleed," he says, "not knowing if I was doing it right or not."

Wargo was determined to find out. In 1972 he and Irene sold all their belongings and bought part interest in the Colonial Inn, a golf club in Sandoval, Ill. Next, Wargo jumped to the nearby Carlyle Golf Club, where he apprenticed with the club pro. In 1982 lie and Irene moved to Centralia, Ill., living at the Greenview Golf Club, of which they are now part owners. He kept chipping away at his handicap and last year finished 28th at the PGA Senior Championship in St. Louis. That turned out to be just a warm-up. "I knew he could do it," says Irene, 49. "Have you ever wanted something so bad, and the dream came true?"

The dream couldn't have been better scripted. Going into the final hole of the four-day tournament, Wargo was just one stroke ahead. Then veteran Bruce Crampton birdied to tie. At that point it was on to sudden death and time, said the smart money, for class to tell. The class, it turned out, was Wargo, who coolly hit the green of the second overtime hole—Crampton had plunked his tee shot into the water—and putted out for par and the $110,000 winner's check.

Savoring his win, he thinks about Irene and their 27-year-old daughter, Michelle, and all his new fans. "I want them to share the thrill and to have just as much fun as I do," he says. "You can't have a party by yourself."

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