Notebook: Aces Anything But Wild for Nelson September 28, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J. By Tom Mackin and Ron Driscoll

David Nelson knows a thing or two about holes-in-one. The U.S. Senior Amateur competitor has made it his business. (USGA/Chris Keane) 

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Of all the competitors in the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, it’s safe to say that David Nelson knows the most about holes-in-one. In fact, he has made them his livelihood for the last 25 years.

The resident of Reno, Nev., who lost in the Round of 64 on Monday, 2 and 1, to David Pulk, of Williamsburg, Va., is president of Hole-in-One U.S.A.  The company provides hole-in-one insurance, primarily for charity golf tournaments and member-guest events nationwide.

Nelson has competed in 29 USGA championships, and his best finish is the quarterfinal round in the 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur. He also won the Nevada State Senior Amateur in 2009 and recently reached the finals of the 2015 Crump Cup at Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club.

The No. 13 seed in the match-play bracket, he squared the match with Pulk by birdieing the par-4 15th hole, but he lost Nos. 16 and 17 to a par and a birdie, as Pulk advanced to a Tuesday morning matchup with Mike Bell, of Indianapolis, Ind.

Though he didn’t advance, Nelson will return to work immersed in the game he loves.

“My dad always said, anytime you can earn a living in something you have a passion for, you’re way ahead of the game,” said Nelson, who has four career holes-in-one. “I love to hear the hole-in-one stories. For the most part it’s a once in a lifetime type deal, so it’s a really cool shot.”

Nelson’s company offers something of a sliding scale for its services.“Based on a few parameters, including the distance of the hole (they will insure no hole shorter than 135 yards), the number of players and the prize value, we come up with the amount of coverage and our fee,” said Nelson, who estimates that hole-in-one prizes typically increase player participation by 10 to 25 percent.  

In providing coverage for thousands of events annually, Nelson said holes-in-one happen more frequently than you might think. “It happens in one out of every 20-25 tournaments,” he estimated. “Not necessarily on the main hole with the most valuable prize (i.e., a new car), but often on one of the par 3s with a secondary prize (typically a new set of irons or a golf-shop gift certificate). The most unusual prize I have heard of is a trip around the world, but no one won it. ”

Nelson hesitates to puts odds on the chances of holes-in-one happening, since they are so random.

“We’ve got a pretty good feel for it after 25 years, and I’m a CPA myself, so I have a good understanding of what the numbers are out there,” he said.

For the record, there have 19 holes-in-one in the 61 years of the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Coutant Making Up for Lost Time

It took Ken Coutant, of Dallas, 40 years to qualify for his second USGA championship, but he’s making the most of the opportunity. Coutant defeated Mike Ameen, of Shreveport, La., 3 and 2, to advance to the second round of match play at Hidden Creek Golf Club.

Winning the first four holes, two with birdies, set an early tone for Coutant.

“I only made two or three birdies the first day of stroke-play qualifying and one on the second day, so I was telling myself, man, you’ve got to make birdies,”  he said. “If you don’t make birdies in this thing you’re not going to get very far. Luckily I holed an incredible putt from behind the green on the first for birdie. I was off and running. I made a lot of pars to keep the pressure on.”

The match was dormie after 12 holes, but Coutant bogeyed the next three holes. “Mike just kept fighting back. I was dormie on 13 and just couldn’t close him out. It was a struggle.” A long two-putt for par by Coutant on the 16th ended the match. 

“Now I have to figure out how to change the flight that I booked for tonight,” he said. “I had thought, well if I miss the (stroke-play) cut, my wife and I would have an extra day in New Jersey to see some things. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope to have the same problem tomorrow.”

Sandlin Bucks Odds, Nearly Upends Medalist

Lee Sandlin liked his odds a lot better in last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur playoff for match play, when 15 players were vying for 13 spots in the 64-man field.

On Monday, Sandlin found himself one of 12 players squaring off on the par-4 10th hole in a playoff for one lone spot. He proceeded to birdie the demanding 440-yard hole to eliminate the rest of the hopefuls, then took stroke-play medalist Randal Lewis to the 20th hole before falling in the Round of 64,

“It was a fun day,” said Sandlin, 61, of Dallas, who reached the Round of 16 last year. “I hit my approach shot on No. 10 up there to about 12 feet, and Vinny Giles had a putt along a similar line the day before in stroke play, so I had a good feel for the break.”

Against Lewis, Sandlin missed a par putt that would have won the match on the 19th hole. “I need to learn to make a 2½-footer,” said Sandlin, who got his chance when Lewis three-putted the hole. When Sandlin hit his approach through the green on the 20th hole and lipped out another par putt, this time from 12 feet, “Mr. Lewis finally dispatched me.”

Sandlin did not have nearly as much fun on Sunday as he struggled to make the match-play bracket.

“Let me tell you, there’s nothing like the last nine holes trying to qualify,” he said. “My head hurts and I’m sure theirs do, too. You’ve got a number to shoot for and you’re trying to get it in the house… and that’s probably the worst thing you can do. You need to play free out there.”

If he makes the 2016 championship field, Sandlin plans to use that lesson to avoid another playoff scrum.

New Jersey native Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com. Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Emial him at rdriscoll@usga.org.


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