Holtgrieve Ponders USGA Competitive Finale September 29, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J. By Tom Mackin

Jim Holtgrieve hinted that his appearance in the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur could be his last in a USGA championship. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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If his loss in the Round of 32 at the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur is Jim Holtgrieve’s last competitive effort in a USGA championship, he would be the first to say it has been a wonderful ride.

“I’ve been talking about it to a bunch of my friends recently, guys like Vinny Giles and Bobby Lewis,” said Holtgrieve on Tuesday. “I’ve been playing competitive golf since I was 6 years old at Westborough Country Club in St. Louis. After 61 years of doing this, I think it may be time to just go have fun. I just want to go play golf with my buddies and have a good time.”

The 67-year-old Holtgrieve, of St. Louis, Mo., defeated fellow two-time USA Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci, of Villanova, Pa., 4 and 3 in the Round of 64 on Monday before losing, 1 up, to Curtis Skinner of Lake Bluff, Ill., on Tuesday morning.

“I played poorly and drove the ball horrifically,” said Holtgrieve. “You can’t play golf like that at this level and expect to win. I haven’t been playing much and I don’t feel comfortable.”

He did not go down without a fight. Although Skinner was 3 up after seven holes, Holtgrieve had squared the match by the 13th hole. After alternating wins over the next four holes, Holtgrieve birdied the par 5 17th, leaving the match all square. But his poor tee shot No. 18 found the woods left of the fairway, eventually leading to Skinner’s win.

Playing well consistently at age 67 is a bit harder, Holtgrieve acknowledged.

“At my age I have to practice a lot,” he said. “When we went to England last month for the Walker Cup I didn’t hit balls or practice. The swing just never felt comfortable here. I shot 79 the first day of stroke play (followed by a 71 to qualify for match play). But I just never felt that I got into a groove.”

So much so that Holtgrieve has employed three different methods of gripping the club during this championship: interlocking, 10-finger and overlap.

“I kind of stabilized it by doing the interlocking with the irons and going with the overlap for the driver,” said Holtgrieve. “I’ve got to get that finalized one way or the other. It’s causing some problems.”

Having both played for and captained teams representing his country, Holtgrieve has a clear preference. “I prefer to be on the captain’s side, but it’s the tougher side,” said the two-time Walker Cup captain, in 2011 and 2013. “I have been there myself (on Walker Cup teams in 1979, 1981 and 1983) so your heart is going out to those guys as they compete in match play. They’re also playing for their country, which is something much bigger than themselves.”

If the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur does turn out to be his final competitive round on a national level, Holtgrieve has plenty of memories to cherish from playing in more than 50 championships, starting with the 1964 U.S. Junior Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club.

“There are so many moments, like playing in the Walker Cup and the World Amateur [Team] Championship, and winning the first-ever U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981 at Bellerive Country Club [a championship he helped create],” he said.

“One of the biggest things was when I qualified for the 1978 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado and made the cut after shooting 79 the first day,” Holtgrieve recalled. “Tom O’Toole (current USGA president) was on the bag for me there. That was huge. Then I won the Missouri Amateur at Sunset Hills Country Club the next week. Those back-to-back tournaments proved to me that I could play at a national level.”

New Jersey native Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com

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