Royak on a Roll November 12, 2019 | Durham, N.C. By David Shefter, USGA

Penchant for Par Saves Propels Georgia Resident to Title

Steady play in the final match carried Bob Royak to the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur title at Old Chatham Golf Club. (USGA/Chris Keane)

2019 Championship Recap Home | 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur Results

This is the third of 15 articles in a series that recaps the 2019 USGA championship series on usga.org for the next seven weeks.

After missing the cut in the U.S. Senior Open at Notre Dame’s Warren Course in late June, Bob Royak tuned into a podcast on “The Lost Art of Putting” by Gary Nicol and Karl Morris. Liking what he heard, Royak downloaded the e-book and immediately adopted their philosophies on the green.

“They’re all about pace, not about line and worrying about that kind of thing,” he said on a late August day at Old Chatham Golf Club.

Royak, 57, of Alpharetta, Ga., regained his confidence with the putter, and it paid off handsomely in the 65th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Old Chatham, an 18-year-old Rees Jones design in Durham, N.C. While Royak didn’t register a plethora of birdies (13) over his eight trips around the course – two stroke-play rounds and six matches – he did convert a bunch of par putts in the 5- to 10-foot range, none more crucial than the 5-footer on the 18th hole of the final against Roger Newsom.

Royak had missed the green on the downhill, 470-yard par 4, statistically the most difficult in stroke play (4.67 average), with his 226-yard hybrid approach. Fortunately, the ball didn’t bury in the bermudagrass rough and his perfectly executed pitch-and-run shot stopped just below the flagstick. After Newsom, 55, an ophthalmologist from Virginia Beach, Va., missed his 34-foot par putt – he also came up short and left with a 5-iron – Royak calmly converted his par attempt. When the ball disappeared, Royak thrusted his arms into the air, relieved that he was finally a USGA champion.

Royak joined his U.S. Amateur Four-Ball partner Doug Hanzel (2013) and Bill Ploeger (1999) as Senior Amateur champions from Georgia. He also joined 2017 champion Sean Knapp by winning the title match without a birdie.

The previous afternoon, Royak had survived a 21-hole semifinal match against defending champion Jeff Wilson, who was vying to become the first player in 39 years to win consecutive titles. Once again, Royak’s short game saved him. With the match tied on No. 18, he executed a long bunker shot to within 6 feet and converted the par putt.

In the final against Newsom, who had eliminated Rick Cloninger, of McDonough, Ga., 1 up, in the semifinals, Royak’s steady diet of pars proved good enough.

Old Chatham, which was hosting its first USGA championship, proved to be a stern test for the game’s best 55-and-older players. Three shared medalist honors at 2-under 142 – 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Michael McCoy, local resident Dean Channell (Cary) and Hanzel. None advanced beyond the Round of 16.

The championship also marked the likely end of Marvin “Vinny” Giles’ USGA career. The 2009 champion was playing in the final year of his 10-year exemption, and he failed to advance in a 9-for-3 playoff for the last match-play spots. The 76-year-old matched his age twice in stroke play but came up just shy of becoming the oldest to ever qualify for match play.

Two-time winner and local favorite Paul Simson, 68, of Raleigh, extended his perfect streak of winning in the Round of 64 to 13 before losing in the Round of 32 to fellow North Carolinian Steve Harwell in 20 holes.

Royak, playing in his fourth Senior Amateur, earned exemptions to the 2020 U.S. Senior Open at Newport (R.I.) C.C. (along with Newsom) as well as the 2020 and 2021 U.S. Amateurs.

“I probably made less than 10 (actually 13) birdies in however many holes that I played (134), which is unusual,” said Royak. “This week, I made a lot of pars.”

And a lot of par-saving putts.

Rick Cloninger lost for the second time in the semifinal round of this championship, and both losses came to players from Virginia. Pat Tallent, of Vienna, defeated him in 2014 and Roger Newsom, of Virginia Beach, prevailed this year.
Bob Royak’s older brother, Jack, served as his caddie for the week. Jack also caddied for Bob’s younger brother, Paul, who missed the match-play cut.
Defending champion Jeff Wilson lost to Royak in the semifinals, on the same day that Tina Barker, a fellow member of Green Valley Country Club in Fairfield, Calif., lost in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Country Club, to Patricia Ehrhart.
Brady Exber lost to Jeff Wilson in the quarterfinals, Exber’s farthest advancement in his 26 USGA championships. Exber defeated 1986 U.S. Amateur champion Stewart (Buddy) Alexander and 2013 Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel to get there. Exber is a minority owner of the Houston Astros.
Paul Jett, 55, a former superintendent at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club and the youngest player in the field, reached the quarterfinals, where he was ousted by Newsom in 19 holes.

ICYMI: Other Features From 65th U.S. Senior Amateur