FORT MYERS, Florida – At age 66, Jim Starnes is playing the best golf of his life. He’s become one of the more accomplished senior golfers in Florida and there’s no secret behind his success.
“It’s a combination of being highly competitive and pretty good hand-eye coordination and loving the game and loving to practice,” he said.
Starnes retired in May of 2021 and he estimates he usually plays golf five days a week, sometimes more. He’s played about 120 competitive rounds this year, and in 21 senior and super senior events he has finished in the top 10 a dozen times and won twice.
In September, he parred his final eight holes to win the Senior Porter Cup Super Senior Division in Lewiston, N.Y., by a shot over three golfers. Last January, he overcame a first-round 77 to card consecutive 70s and win the Gateway Super Senior in his hometown of Fort Myers, Florida. He played the last 10 holes in 3 under to overcome a four-shot deficit and win by a shot.
Last year, he also played in 21 senior or super senior events and finished in the top 10 13 times. He likes to say that he believes in “success through volume.” His significant other, Debi Cassis, attends nearly all of his tournaments.
The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Starnes also works hard on his game, especially his putting. In front of an eight-foot mirror, he rolls 200 three-foot putts five days a week on the artificial green on the patio at his home overlooking a pond on the 13th hole at his home course of Fiddlesticks CC.
“That’s allowed me to groove a stroke,” he said. “So whether it’s three feet or 30 feet, at least I’ve got pretty good rhythm and tempo and that’s allowed me to have the success I’ve had in the senior realm for the last nine or 10 years.”
He also spends 60-90 minutes practicing his putting and the other parts of his game before each round.
Tom Buckley, 47, is a frequent playing partner with Starnes at Fiddlesticks and calls him the best putter he’s played with.
“He’s very still,” Buckley said. “He’s got quiet eyes and he has something that many amateur golfers don’t have – he’s never had the fear of having to putt the 3-footer coming back.”
Starnes owns more than 20 Bobby Grace putters and played with them for more than 25 years, but about a month ago he was in a bit of a slump so he switched to a Rickie Fowler Odyssey Jailbird putter.
“Sometimes you have to punish your putters by putting them in the closet,” he said.
Soon after the switch, he carded a 66 at Fiddlesticks to shoot his age or better for the second time this year. A few days ago, he sank 120 feet of putts during a round.
Starnes knew technology from his career of selling software and data so he worked with a company in India to create an app called “Gimme that putt” that’s available for $4.99 at the iPhone app store. You hover the cell phone over the cup and drag it to your ball to determine if it’s within the gimme distance that was agreed upon prior to each round. It can also measure distances for closest-to-the-pin contests. He’s considering donating the profits to the game of golf somehow.
Starnes’ lowest handicap was a plus-3 and it’s still a plus 0.6 now. His lowest tournament round was a 67 and his lowest 54-hole total was 4 under while winning the 2016 SOS Founders Cup in Orlando.
At Fiddlesticks CC, he has captured three club championships and three senior club championships.
He’s recorded six holes in one from 1981-2022.
Starnes strives to get even better. He pointed out that he led six events this year entering the final round and won just two of them. He has set a goal of winning four or five events next year.
Starnes played football, basketball and baseball while growing up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The last year he played football, he started at quarterback as a ninth grader in a local weight-restricted league and his team finished 0-10-1 and didn’t score a point. That’s when he turned to golf.
In 1974, he qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur at Brooklawn CC in Fairfield, Conn., and his grandfather, Frank R. Lovell, a longtime USGA official, was on hand to watch him play. Starnes lost in the third round to eventual champion David Nevatt.
Starnes comes from a golfing family. His grandmother headed the USGA Women’s Committee from 1974-77 and his mother, Mary Margaret Lovell, played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior three times.
Starnes played one year of golf at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, but he drifted away from the game as he grew older.
“I’ve had periods of time where I abandoned the game,” he said, “either because of where I was living, where I was working or total frustration.”
Starnes played only two or three rounds a year before he moved to Fiddlesticks in 2014 and began hitting 400-500 balls a day at the range in addition to rolling 200 putts a day. Within a year and a half, he lowered his handicap to scratch.
In 2016, 42 years after his first, he qualified for his second USGA event, the U.S. Senior Amateur in St. Louis, and he reached the final 64. That year, Starnes also posted his two other senior victories at the Dixie Senior & Mid-Master and the SOS Founders Cup.
In 2020, he reached the final 16 of the Golfweek Senior National Match Play and in 2016 and 2021 he played in the U.S. Senior Amateur.
Starnes finished 10th in the 2018 Irish Senior Amateur and he has also competed in the British Senior Amateur, English Senior Amateur and Canadian Senior Amateur.
As impressed as Buckley is with Starnes’ putting, he’s equally dazzled by his neatly coiffed hair.
“He doesn’t wear a hat on the golf course and that hair is perfect,” Buckley said.
“I was born with a full head of hair and ever since then I’ve been a lucky man,” Starnes said.
Starnes is inspired by the golfers he plays against who are in their 70s and even 80s.
“I hope to still be kicking around tournament golf for another 10 or 15 years,” he said.
On the web: AmateurGolf.com/…/James-Starnes