U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
After More Than Four Decades, Two Return to USGA Play
September 18, 2016 | St. Louis, Mo.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Ron Perrine had little trouble shaking off a bogey-bogey finish in the first round of stroke play at the U.S. Senior Amateur on Saturday at Old Warson Country Club. When you are competing in your first USGA championship after a 48-year hiatus, bogeys have a way of rolling off your back.
Perrine, 65, played in the 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., at age 17. Despite attempting to qualify for a spot in a second USGA championship “10 or 15 times” in the ensuing four-plus decades, he never made it back until this week. Was it worth the wait for the longtime locker-room manager at the Country Club of Lansing (Mich.) who is nicknamed “Dr. Shoe”?
“It’s been the best time of my life, to be honest with you,” said Perrine, of Holt, Mich., after completing a round of 5-over-par 76 that left him squarely in the mix of players who will be vying for one of the 64 spots available in the match-play draw. “The club members gave me full support to take time off. Everybody at the club has been texting me; it’s just been great.”
Six years after Perrine debuted at The Country Club, another youngster made his USGA debut in the U.S. Junior Amateur. James Starnes, who grew up in Gaithersburg, Md., competed in the 1974 championship at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn., and waited 42 years – six fewer than Perrine – to get back into a USGA championship this week at Old Warson.
“I never like to rush into anything,” said Starnes, 59, who now lives in Fort Myers, Fla. Like Perrine, he estimated that he has attempted to qualify 15 times in the four-plus decades since, which also included a long break from the game.
“The better I did in business, the worse I got at golf,” said Starnes, a semi-retired sales consultant . “I lost my swing, a la ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance.’ It got to the point where I hated the game, so I quit. It just so happened that a buddy of mine had a condo for sale at Fiddlesticks [a golf community in Fort Myers]. I thought, do I really want to move into a golf community?”
Starnes shot 90 while playing with Tom Case, a former captain of the golf team at Wake Forest University, and sure enough, his competitive instincts began to kick in.
“It just got fun again,” said Starnes, who played for one year at Florida Southern College. “I played five times in 2013 and 200 times in 2014. The muscle memory started coming back.”
He also reconnected with some of his fellow competitors. Starnes had defeated Jerry Rose in 19 holes in the second round of that 1974 U.S. Amateur at Brooklawn before losing to David Nevatt, the eventual champion. Rose now lives in Sarasota, Fla., about an hour from Starnes, and they compete in Florida events together. Rose is also in the field this week at Old Warson.
“I’ve played in 18 national senior events this year,” said Starnes, who is the grandson of Frank R. Lovell, a longtime member of the USGA Rules Committee. His grandmother headed the USGA Women’s Committee from 1974-77, and his mother, Mary Margaret Lovell, played in three U.S. Girls’ Juniors.
“I played in the Senior Porter Cup and the Sunnehanna, then flew here,” said Starnes, who shot 2-over-par 73 on Saturday and starts his Sunday round at 1:30 p.m. “The journey has been absolutely incredible and I’ve made a wealth of friends.”
After making the 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur and captaining his Mason (Mich.) High School team to a state title, Perrine got away from the game in his adult years.
“I didn’t play for a long time with family and all, then I got back into it mainly as a senior, about 10 years ago,” said Perrine, who has worked at CC of Lansing for 26 years after learning his trade at Evanston (Ill.) Golf Club. “I just missed qualifying for this event a couple of times – I was an alternate once.”
Perrine had breakfast before Saturday’s round with two-time USGA champion Vinny Giles, and he played a practice round on Thursday with two-time U.S. Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson and Frank Ford, a six-time winner of the Azalea Invitational who has played in more than 30 USGA championships.
“The golf course was very overwhelming to me when we played on Thursday,” Perrine admitted. “We played it all the way back that day, so it was nice to see the tees up a little bit [on Saturday]. Even though I still hit it pretty good, it was much more playable for a guy like me.”
Perrine survived a rocky start on Saturday to record three birdies and stay in the hunt for match play. He begins Round 2 at 1:20 p.m. CDT, and he is looking to settle a long-ago score.
“That 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur was a wonderful experience,” said Perrine. “But I should have made match play. There were seven guys for three spots, and I lost out on the third playoff hole.”
Forty-eight years later, he is getting a second chance.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.