Lendzion was a walk-on on the San Fernando Valley State (now Cal State-North-ridge) team and finished second to a future Tour player, Jerry Heard, in his first collegiate tournament. "I couldn't believe it," Lendzion says. "I had a terrible swing, but I could get up and down from the ball washer."
In 1969, when he was a junior, Valley State won the NCAA Division II title. "Bob was the rock," says Caldwell, who joined the team the following fall and went on to play the Tour. "He would shoot 72 every day but wouldn't get much under par. The rest of us might shoot 67 one day, 80 the next. He would stand close to the ball when he putted. If I heard a double click—the heel of his Bulls Eye putter hitting his toe—the putt always went in. He was the best putter I ever saw."
Usually about 100 kids attended the Palmer Academy at Stratton Mountain, where Lendzion got his first job after graduating with a degree in mathematics in 1972. He considered teaching math but got hooked up with the academy through his college coach, Bill Cullum, and went east instead. The highlight of every session was a visit from Palmer, who would arrive via a chartreuse helicopter that landed on the practice range. "It was like God coming out of the sky," Lendzion says. "Arnie would go down the line on the range and give each kid a tip." Lendzion spent 12 years at the academy, eventually becoming director of golf. He married Pam Bowen in 1975, and they had a son, Jonathan, later that year. In 1978 Lendzion was divorced and hasn't remarried.
Lendzion tried to qualify for the PGA Tour six times but never made it through Q school. He would play the mini-tours in Florida and Arizona during the winter until he ran out of money, and then he would get a job in a packing plant or a warehouse and earn enough to get back to Vermont for the summer. In 1983 he became the head pro at Quechee (Vt.) Club, where he spent another dozen years, keeping his competitive fires alive during the off-season by playing in South Africa, Jamaica and South America, where he won the '93 Chile Open. He also won the '86 Club Pro Championship at PGA West, in La Quinta, Calif. Nine years later, at 47, he quit Quechee and began his journey to the Senior tour.
His first stop on that trip came in 1997 in France, at the European senior tour Q school. The top 10 finishers qualified, and Lendzion was on the bubble until he hit a drive deep into the woods at the next-to-last hole and made a double bogey. Angry but fired up, he reached the par-5 18th in two and holed a 30-foot eagle putt to tie for ninth. "That was a miracle," he says. Lendzion played 29 tournaments during his two years in Europe, winning one in Turkey and preparing himself for his new life this year in the U.S.
Lendzion finished 17th in his first start on the Senior tour, the Royal Caribbean Classic, in February, and came in 22nd at last week's Bruno's Memorial Classic, but has struggled in between and is so far down the money list (71st, with $56,315) that he'll need another miracle to make the top 31, which would allow him to be exempt again next season. He shot an 85 in the second round of the Tradition when his game got away from him in the cold and the wind. He had an 88, again in bad weather, at the PGA Seniors. "The Q school was a big hurdle," Lendzion says. "To finally get through one was a big accomplishment. I qualified for the race. Now I've got to run it. I don't know if I'm really ready for that."
The journey, however, continues. Lendzion recently bought a 32-foot motor home and is traveling the tour with Jonathan, who doubles as his caddie, and Jonathan's girlfriend, Alison Bulman. They broke in the RV at the Tradition, outside Phoenix, where they stayed at a campground for $15 a night. "Things happened for me the way they were supposed to happen," Lendzion says. "I wasn't ready to play the PGA Tour when I was younger. I probably would've bombed."
In his fifth start as a full-fledged member of the Senior tour, Lendzion drew a second-round pairing with Palmer at the Toshiba Senior Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. They reminisced about Vermont and Palmer's academy. Lendzion shot a 71, Palmer a 74. "He was very nice, but when you walk down a fairway with him, you can't help but feel as if you're walking with a legend," Lendzion says.
A few hundred spectators were on the 1st green when Palmer sank a 25-foot putt for birdie. "Everybody went crazy," says Lendzion. Several thousand more fans were around the 18th green when Palmer drained a long putt for birdie there, too. "That was the loudest roar I've ever heard," Lendzion says. "All day I was thinking, Arnold is 70. You don't know how many more tournament rounds he's going to have, and I've got one of them. It was special."
Lendzion had bumped into Palmer a few years ago and asked him if he recalled the time he had fixed eggs for two disheveled pros who showed up on his doorstep in La-trobe. "He said he remembered," Lendzion says. "I don't know if he really did. I told him, 'Thanks for breakfast.' "