Four-Decade Drought Ends for Coutant; Rice Plans to Call it a Day September 26, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J. By Tom Mackin

Forty years after playing in the U.S. Junior Amateur, Ken Coutant finally returned to a USGA championship. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

Times have changed since Ken Coutant last competed in a USGA championship.

Despite having played golf for just a year, Coutant was the medalist in sectional qualifying for the 1975 U.S. Junior Amateur at Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas.

At age 16, he then flew by himself to Tennessee to play in the championship at Richland Country Club in Nashville.

“I had never been away from home before,” Coutant recalled on Saturday. “Back then, we didn’t have the helicopter parents like today. It was more like, ‘Son, here’s your plane ticket and good luck!’”

Coutant ended up losing in a playoff for the last spot in match play. It took four decades, but here he is at Hidden Creek Golf Club, competing in his second USGA championship and – after an opening-round 74 – hoping that this time he will advance into match play.

“I just never thought I would make another one,” said Coutant. “It just seemed to get harder every year. I’ve tried them all. I think the only USGA events I haven’t tried to qualify for are the women’s ones.”

Countant has vivid memories of his initial USGA foray in 1975.

“What I remember most is Bob Toski did a clinic, and that was just incredible because I had never seen a real golf teacher before,” said Coutant. “And they had a trick-shot guy there, too. It was a lot of fun.”

His persistence paid off earlier this month when Coutant shot 73 to tie for second and earn one of five spots in a U.S. Senior Amateur qualifier at Royal Oaks in Dallas. But even that wasn’t easy.

“I was choking so bad on the last hole,” he said. “I hit a great drive and had 4 wood to the green. Then I hit it dead fat into a creek 60 yards short of the green. I thought, oh man. I hit a great sand wedge but missed the par putt. So I had to wait a few hours to find out if I made it.”

Despite the decades of frustration, Coutant never lost hope of qualifying.  

“Well, you can’t quit,” he reasoned. “I’m going to keep trying until I’m not competitive anymore. This is just the pinnacle for me. Nobody can hold a candle to what the USGA does with running championships.”

Coutant, who won the Dallas City championship in 2011 and 2014, said he is definitely playing better now than ever before. The reason?

“Having my kids (now ages 25 and 28) out of the house. My wife and I are empty-nesters. I have time to work on my game.” 

Past champion Mike Rice is making his final U.S. Senior Amateur appearance at the age of 75. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Last Go-Round for 2005 Champion Rice

At age 75, Mike Rice of Houston, Texas, is the oldest player in the field and the second-oldest player in the championship’s history. He also plans on making this year’s edition his swan song.

“This is it for me,” said Rice, who is using the last year of a 10-year exemption he earned by winning the championship in 2005. “I think the hardest part about is you think you can, but you physically can’t do it. I still hit the ball OK, but when there are 450-yard par 4s and I’m hitting hybrids and woods when other guys are hitting irons, you just can’t match up with that. It’s time.”

His first round on Saturday in windy conditions reinforced the correctness of the decision. “I came in trying to make the cut this week, but I don’t think I will after what I did today,” said Rice, who shot 78. “I didn’t putt very well, and these greens are a little different from what I’m used to. It’s just hard to pick the right club, and you can’t tell where the wind is coming from.”

Rice suffered a torn rotator cuff while winning the championship in 2005, defeating Mark Bemowski, 1 up, at The Farm Golf Club in Rocky Face, Ga.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime to win a national championship. I thought I would do it at 55, not 65,” Rice said with a laugh. “I still remember a lot of things that happened that week.”

Although this will be his last appearance in a USGA championship, he’s not giving up the game. “I’m going to play until I can’t play anymore,” said Rice, who reached match play in last year’s Senior Amateur before being ousted in the Round of 64. “I keep telling my wife I’m just going to play at home (at Champions Golf Club in Houston) but she says, ‘No, you’re not.’ And I say, yes I am. I played a couple of weeks ago in the Senior Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in New York as a Super Senior, the first time I did that. I played OK, not great. But I didn’t hit any hybrids into par 4s there. I did that a lot today. When you are 190 yards out from the green versus 150 yards, it’s a different game.”

“I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been a great ride,” Rice said. “I’m not going to try to qualify again. If I thought I was competitive, I’d do it. It’s time for somebody else to have the privilege and honor.”

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

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