Senior Amateur Contestants Remember 9/11 September 10, 2011 By Michael Trostel, USGA

In commemoration of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the USGA replaced the traditional hole flags on holes nine and 11 with American flags. John Pallin (right) and his caddie took proper care of our nation's symbol during Sunday's round, which fell on the 10th anniversary of that day. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Ten years ago, the USGA Senior Amateur was contested at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, Mo. The record book will show that Kemp Richardson won the first of his two championship titles, defeating Bill Ploeger, 2 and 1. But the thoughts of everyone at the 2001 Senior Amateur – and all of the United States – were understandably on the tragic events of Sept. 11.  

The terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. occurred on a Tuesday morning, shortly after the start of the second round of match play. After a discussion among USGA officials and a consultation with the players remaining in the championship, it was decided that play would continue.   

Norwood Hills is located just a few miles from Lambert Field, St. Louis’ international airport. The din of planes that flew over the course every few minutes during the qualifying rounds and first round of match play went eerily silent on Tuesday, as the Federal Aviation Administration took the unprecedented step of grounding all air travel across the nation.

Seven players in this year’s Senior Amateur field also competed in Norwood Hills in 2001. Here are their remembrances from an emotional and trying week, one decade ago:  

Gary Menzel, 67, Milwaukee, Wis.  

Menzel was a runner-up in the Senior Amateur in 1999 and a semifinalist in 2000.  

"[2001] was the last time I played in the Senior Am. I haven’t played in 10 years. It meant nothing to me anymore. I tried to qualify one or two times after that, but my heart just wasn’t in it. My wife has never been to one of these, she’s always been working, but I said if I qualify [this year], let’s go down to Virginia. I want to play it one more time.

"I was on the 11th hole of my second match and I was 4-up. The official came over and said the Twin Towers are down. Norwood Hills was right in the flight pattern of Lambert Field. Jets were coming in, two at a time every three to four minutes they’re landing. All of a sudden when he said that, I realized, no planes were landing and said, ‘What the heck is going on?’ After I heard that I ended up losing the match in 20 holes. I wanted to play and yet I just couldn’t do anything out there.

"I knew immediately we were at war. My son was in the Navy at the time and I’m thinking he could be at war.

"I was a police officer – so I just knew the whole thing. The firefighters and police officers [who responded] – I knew they were [in trouble]. That’s just what they do. It’s instinct. They go right in after the fire and want to help people."

Mark Bemowski, 65, Mukwonago, Wis.  

Bemowski was the 2004 Senior Amateur champion and finished runner-up in 2002 and 2005.  

"It was the first one I played, 2001. That morning was the second round. I had a tough match and lost. Really didn’t know much about it. My opponent’s caddie said, ‘Hey, I heard a plane flew into the World Trade Center,’ and I thought, OK, some guy had a small plane, some idiot made a mistake.

"We played on and I was devastated because I was playing great and I really felt I could win the championship and I lost. We finished and Tom Nettles from Golf Channel was there and started telling us the whole thing. It still brings me to tears, still tears me apart. It really puts everything in perspective."

Mike Rice, 71, Houston, Texas  

Rice was the 2005 Senior Amateur champion.  

"I got beat in the first round. My wife has some family in Illinois, so we drove up there. I was surprised when I heard that they continued to play, but it’s so tough to know what to do in a situation like that."

"I was watching television last night. Every time you see it you think it can’t be happening. But yet you know it happened. It’s still hard to believe that those two towers are gone and 3,000 people are dead."

Jack Vardaman, 71, Washington, D.C.  

Vardaman was a semifinalist in the 2005 Senior Amateur. He also served as the USGA General Counsel from 1999-2002 and was a member of the Executive Committee in 2003.  

"I lost in the first round on Sept. 10 and was able to get a flight home that night. The next day I was driving to work, sort of down because I had lost in the first round and I heard on the radio about the news of Sept. 11 and suddenly I didn’t think about golf anymore. It was a vivid memory. You know how we are, grumbling and moaning about losing, and the next thing you know we’ve had a national catastrophe.

"I was driving downtown in D.C. and I went ahead and went to the office building which is only about four blocks from the White House. I have a son who works in the Treasury Department, which is right next door to the White House, and told him to get out. Then a plane went in the Pentagon and you could hear it and see the smoke. There was that mystery plane that was reported coming to either the White House or the Capitol and I’m sitting right there in between and we didn’t know what to do so I just stayed put.

"It was great to be in the championship because back then I felt like I could do some real damage. I was down in the dumps about losing and the next thing you know you’re worried about people you know who worked in the Trade Center and loved ones who might be affected. Suddenly your mind left the thought of golf and turned to all the other emotions you had about Sept. 11 which were horror and sympathy and anger. It was awful."

Kemp Richardson, 65, Laguna Niguel, Calif.  

Richardson is a two-time Senior Amateur champion. He won the 2001 championship at Norwood Hills.  

"Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. As I was going out to play my second match, I heard that a small plane had gone into the World Trade Center, like a Piper Cub or something like that, something small. And then I heard what actually happened.

"The USGA asked us what we wanted to do. Since we were all there and couldn’t get anywhere anyway we said let’s just finish what we’re doing. Your heart goes out to anybody and everybody affected."

Marvin "Vinny" Giles III, 68, Richmond, Va.  

Giles won the 1972 U.S. Amateur and 2009 Senior Amateur. He was a member of four USA Walker Cup Teams.  

"My daughter had been in New York for one day. She had just started at NBC at Rockefeller Center on that Monday, so it was her second day there. So obviously I was tremendously concerned because of that. She actually saw the second plane go into the tower. So I have a lot of reflections and too many damn memories. The only reason one of my closest friends survived is that they moved the [U.S.] Mid-Amateur qualifying from Monday to Tuesday.

"I was amazed that they kept playing the championship. I understand why, but, I mean, golf? I mean, give me a break. But it was probably the right thing to do to try and get it off your mind. We ended up staying an extra three days because there were no flights and drove back to Virginia through the night."

Todd Lusk, 68, Baton Rouge, La.  

Lusk served in the U.S. Army from 1966-68 and was honorably discharged. He has qualified for match play in four of his five previous Senior Amateurs.  

"It made a big impression on me. I just really started looking at the video again last night. My wife and I were in tears. The day it happened we were in shock, but now, 10 years later, we were in tears looking back.

"I am a Vietnam vet and seeing that again is like going to see the wall in Washington. I delayed doing it for a while because it was so hard, but when I finally did, it felt good to do and get it resolved. As a veteran, I think it affects me even more."

Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at mtrostel@usga.org.