Defending Champ Giles Keeps Staying Alive October 3, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

For the second consecutive year, Vinny Giles needed extra holes to win his first-round match at the Senior Amateur. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Orlando, Fla. – Marvin Vinny Giles is living proof that great champions are tough to extinguish.

Or he just has a lot of lives.

As old as I am, I’m lucky I have any, said the 67-year-old defending USGA Senior Amateur champion.

On Saturday, Giles seemingly was headed for an early exit from this year’s championship at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club. He was seven over par through 15 holes in Saturday’s first qualifying round before registering three consecutive birdies to salvage a 4-over 76. A second-round 74 put the Richmond, Va., native into the match-play draw, where he faced Robin McCool of Bethlehem, Pa., in Monday’s first round. In contrast, McCool had shot rounds of 70-76.

I told my wife I didn’t catch an easy draw, said Giles. He was a good player and I knew he was a good player.

Again, Giles looked like he would be high-tailing it out of Central Florida when he fell 3 down after five holes. He was 2 down after 12, but McCool bogeyed 16 and 17, and the opportunistic Giles pounced on the opening by taking the match into extra holes. A perfect drive on the par-4 first hole left the four-time USA Walker Cup Team member with a 54-degree sand-wedge approach that he stuck to 10 feet. One putt later, Giles, who shot the equivalent of two under par for 19 holes, was making plans to tee it up in the second round Tuesday morning against Bev Hargraves of Helena, Ark.

During last year’s remarkable run to the Senior Amateur title at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, Giles won his opening match in 20 holes, rolling in a 50-foot eagle putt at No. 18 to force overtime against Bob Harrington. In fact, all six of Giles’ matches went at least 17 holes.

I’d rather be way ahead, said Giles, smiling. I don’t mind [tight matches]. I felt pressure in the qualifying because I wanted to make match play, having won last year.

I don’t have any jumpiness because I got lucky enough to win last year. At 66, that was kind of the only goal I had left in golf. Fortunately it’s been accomplished, so I don’t feel a tremendous amount of pressure.

Last year’s victory gave Giles the record of years between USGA titles. He claimed the 1972 U.S. Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club after several runner-up showings and 37 years later he won a second crown.

Now the question becomes how many more Senior Amateurs will Giles play? He knows he’ll be in the field next year when the event comes to his home course, Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.

I might try to play three more, said Giles, who recently won the Senior Division of the Crump Cup at Pine Valley Golf Club in southern New Jersey and was the runner-up in a playoff at the Virginia Senior Open. It depends a lot on how I feel and what kind of health I have.

My feeling about this event is if I don’t feel I can make match play, I shouldn’t be here because there is somebody else who would much rather have that spot, even if they can’t make match play. Maybe it’s a person who has never played before at a USGA event. I’m not going to take up space.

Right now, however, Giles is showing he can still compete at this level. In fact, he said his game is better now than when he first became eligible for the Senior Amateur 12 years ago.

My golf game is pretty good, he said. I was very disappointed with my first qualifying round. I just felt totally uncoordinated the whole day. I think some of it was pressure. I just wanted to shoot a couple of 75s. Then all of a sudden, I’ve hit two in the water, made two double bogeys and not making any birdies. Those three birdies [at the end] put me back in the hunt.

I still feel if I play like I did today [against McCool], I can play with most of these guys.

Great champions usually do.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.