Notebook: Medalist Drought Continues At Senior Am September 15, 2014 By David Shefter and Ron Driscoll, USGA

Rick Cloninger took out 2014 Senior Amateur medalist Alan Fadel, 7 and 6, with a sterling display on the greens. (USGA/Chris Keane)

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – The longest current medalist victory drought in a USGA amateur championship – now at 27 years – will continue for another year.

1987: U.S. Senior Amateur (John Richardson)
U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links (Candie Kung)
2002: U.S. Senior Women's Amateur (Carol S. Thompson)
2004: U.S. Amateur (Ryan Moore)
2008: U.S. Women's Amateur (Amanda Blumenherst)
2009: U.S. Junior Amateur (Jordan Spieth)
2011: U.S. Girls' Junior (Ariya Jutanugarn)
2014: U.S. Amateur Public Links (Byron Meth)
2014: U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur (Margaret Shirley)
2014: U.S. Mid-Amateur (Scott Harvey)
Rick Cloninger, 57, of Fort Mill, S.C., knocked out stroke-play medalist Alan Fadel, 59, of Toledo, Ohio, 7 and 6, in the Round of 32 on Tuesday morning in the 60th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, being conducted at Big Canyon Country Club. Fadel had earned the No. 1 seed by shooting 7-under 137 last weekend before winning his first-round match on Monday, 1 up.

John Richardson remains the last medalist to win the championship, doing so in 1987 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. Richardson’s son, Kemp, won the Senior Amateur in 2001 and 2003, making them the only father-son champions in USGA history.

Cloninger, competing in his 12th USGA event and his first Senior Amateur, was the equivalent of 5 under par for the 12 holes, with the usual match-play concessions. Bothered by a sore back in Monday’s win, Cloninger said he felt fine on Tuesday. His game certainly wasn’t hurting, as he matched his best finish in a USGA event, the Round of 16 at the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

He won five consecutive holes from No. 2 – three with birdies – to build a 5-up lead at the turn. Birdies at 10 and 12 closed out the match.

I played really well, said Cloninger, who has won the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina Mid-Amateur titles and has represented all three states in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship. I got off to a good start and was able to keep it going. When you get a lead, you don’t want to let off the pedal. There’s too many good players [in this field] and he’s the kind of player who can flip it on and get going. The key thing is I get to move on.

Fadel never could match his brilliant form in stroke play, when he carded rounds of 70-67 to edge two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson by a stroke. Fadel said his ball-striking was improved from Monday, but he missed a couple of short putts and it snowballed from there.

I wasn’t terrible, said Fadel, a financial advisor. I missed a short [birdie] putt on 2, I three-putted 3, missed a short birdie putt on 4 and bogeyed 5. I hit a really good shot on 6 that went over the green in the long stuff, and I didn’t get up and down [for par].

As he gathered his belongings and emptied his locker, Fadel assessed his week. After becoming medalist, he received dozens of texts and emails, which he said could have subconsciously put extra pressure on him.

I don’t know if you feel pressure, he said. In this day of social media, you get bombarded … with everything you can think of. I felt great today, though. I had no complaints. It wasn’t my day. I was just so thrilled to finally play well in a USGA event, at least in the [stroke]-play portion.

Cloninger, a construction equipment consultant who played baseball and football at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., had no explanation for the Senior Amateur medalist drought of more than a quarter-century.

I don’t understand that, said Cloninger, who eliminated Kemp Richardson, the son of John Richardson, in Monday’s first round, 2 and 1. We’re not professionals and having [matches] every day [is tough].

Mid-Amateur Champions Play Bonus Golf

It figured that a second-round match between a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateur champions would need more than 18 holes to be decided. Randal Lewis, 57, of Alma, Mich., the 2011 champion, defeated two-time Mid-Amateur champion (1994 and 2001) Tim Jackson, 55, of Germantown, Tenn., in 20 holes.

We’re probably the two best players in the field, said a disappointed Jackson, who also was a member of two USA Walker Cup Teams.

Added Lewis: It was fun. It was everything I thought it would be. I was hoping I wouldn’t get a match like this until later in the tournament. He’s such a great player.

Neither player owned more than a two-hole lead throughout the match and with Jackson going to the 18th hole with a 1-up advantage, Lewis needed a heroic shot. Sitting on a flat lie 228 yards from the flagstick, Lewis launched a 19-degree hybrid over the water to within 15 feet.

Probably the best shot I hit all day, under the circumstances, said Lewis.

Jackson, whose ball was on a downslope, decided to play the percentages and laid up short of the water. His wedge approach stopped 8 feet below the hole. Lewis lipped out his eagle putt, giving Jackson a chance for the win.

I misread it, said Jackson. My putting wasn’t very stellar this week except for the first day [of stroke-play qualifying on Saturday].

Two pars on No. 19 sent the match to the par-5 20th, where again Lewis got aggressive. With the hole cut just a few feet from the edge of the water, Lewis gambled with his 4-hybrid from 189 yards away, knowing a 5-iron might come up short.

I had to play a little bit aggressive today because I knew he wasn’t going to make many mistakes, said Lewis.

Jackson, like he has all week on the hole, found the rough and had to lay up short of the creek. His ball also drew some mud, which made spinning his third shot more challenging. Jackson’s wedge approach was well past the flagstick.

Lewis knocked his second shot to the back of the green. He lagged his long eagle putt 3 feet past the hole, and when Jackson missed his birdie from long range, Lewis converted the birdie putt.

Beating a Mid-Amateur champion in extra holes might be a good omen for Lewis. The last time it happened – at the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur against Nathan Smith in the semifinals – Lewis went on to win the championship at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in suburban Houston.

Defending Champion Hanzel Ousted

A new name is going to be inscribed on the Senior Amateur Championship Trophy after Doug Hanzel, of Savannah, Ga., was eliminated by Emile Vaughan, of Pike Road, Ala., 3 and 2.

Playing the role of underdog, Vaughan played 3-under golf over the first nine holes – with the usual concessions – and then held on for the victory.

The underdog always has it a little easier, said Vaughan, who also advanced to the Round of 16 three years ago at Kinloch Golf Club. I can’t say it’s less [pressure], it’s just different.

From the moment he stepped onto the property, Vaughan took a liking to Big Canyon C.C. The course rewards precision more than power and that fits into his style of play.

You’ve got to pick your way around it, he said. I am not an extremely long hitter and this is more of a control-your-golf-ball type of course. So I feel I can play with most anybody.

Szewczul Continues Senior Am Success

Dave Szewczul, of Farmington, Conn., outlasted fellow New Englander, Don Reycroft, of Norfolk, Mass., in 20 holes in his bid to improve upon last year’s quarterfinal showing in this championship.

Szewczul trailed the match, 1 down, on the 17th hole before he coaxed in a 25-foot birdie putt to square it. Each player had birdie putts inside of 10 feet to win the match on both the 18th and 19th holes, but it wasn’t until the 20th hole, the par-5 second at Big Canyon, that Reycroft sent a pitch shot into the water to seal Szewczul’s victory.

How do you figure it, said Szewczul, 60, who is playing in his 25th USGA championship. Last year, I learned that you’ve just got to hang in there. I happened to be on the right side of it this time.

Reycroft’s approach to the par-4 first hole, their 19th, burned the edge of the hole for what would have been a winning eagle. He then slid his birdie try past on the low side after Szewczul had done the same. Both players put their second shots behind the green on the 485-yard, par-5 second, and after Szewczul chipped about 7 feet past the hole, Reycroft hit a pitch that scurried past the hole and down the bank into the water, effectively ending the match. After his sixth shot, Reycroft conceded Szewczul’s birdie putt.

The lie was good; I just hit it thin and carried it a bit too far, said Reycroft, who holed a bunker shot for birdie on No. 10, only to see Szewczul match him with a 25-foot putt. It’s an unfortunate way to end it, but it was still a great experience for me.

Reycroft, 58, whose first USGA championship was last year’s U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club, brought a sartorial touch to his first Senior Amateur, wearing plus-fours throughout the week.

After I qualified [on my fourth try], I told my wife [Sue] that I wanted to have some fun and make something special out of this, said Reycroft. So I ordered the plus-fours; I looked at it as a tribute to the game of golf.

Local Hopes Sink With Dubois Defeat

Big Canyon member Don Dubois gave Bryan Norton, of Mission Hills, Kan., a bit of an opening, and Norton barged through it to earn a 4-and-2 victory that he clinched emphatically by holing out a 100-yard wedge shot for an eagle.

I knew I needed to play well today, said Dubois, 55, who defeated David Clement, 2 and 1, in the first round. I three-putted No. 9 and that gave him some easy momentum.

That hole put Dubois 1 down, and before he knew it, Norton had reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 10-12 to go 4 up.

I didn’t really play well the entire event, but I played well enough to keep myself in it until Bryan got on that little streak, said Dubois, a longtime member of the host club. Normally pars are pretty good in USGA events, but not today.

Dubois pointed to a lack of sharpness in his wedge play, which is normally a strength for him.

On holes 1, 2 and 4, I was in perfect spots to hit them close and make birdie and I didn’t convert any of them, said Dubois, who had several dozen club members following him, despite the heat. I wish I could have played a little better for them today. Still, it was a lot of fun for me.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org. Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.