Reigning Senior Amateur Champion Enjoying Spoils of Victory June 26, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Defending U.S. Senior Amateur champion Dave Ryan is looking forward to playing a U.S. Senior Open practice round with Tom Watson. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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Two years ago, Dave Ryan asked fellow competitor Tom Watson if he could watch Watson prepare for the U.S. Senior Open at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento.

“I was walking off the range and I asked him if it would be OK to watch him hit balls for a while,” said Ryan. “He said to come on over. It was pretty cool to watch.”

After an email exchange with the eight-time major champion, Ryan, who is playing in his fourth U.S. Senior Open, will get the opportunity on Wednesday to play with Watson in a practice round for the 38th U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club. One day later, Ryan will tee off in the opening round of the championship as part of a traditional grouping. Thanks to his victory in last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur, he will start on the 10th hole at 7:52 a.m. EDT with defending champion Gene Sauers and Paul Broadhurst, who won last year’s Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie.

“It’s an honor to get to play in this thing,” said Ryan, 63, of Taylorville, Ill., who defeated Matthew Sughrue, 2 up, last September at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis to earn a berth in this championship, as well as the upcoming U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur championships. “I didn’t know [about the exemptions] going in, and it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know.”

Ryan captured last year’s Senior Amateur in dramatic fashion, frittering away a 4-up advantage to Sughrue before bouncing back to win the 17th and 18th holes. He also recorded just the third known hole-in-one on a par 4 in USGA history in his Round-of-16 victory over two-time champion Paul Simson, and he edged another two-time USGA champion, Tim Jackson, in the semifinal round.

“To be honest with you, sometimes I wake up at night and think, how in the hell did I do that?” said Ryan, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. “It’s pretty special. You’ve got to play very well and you’ve got to have some luck, because everyone who qualifies for that championship is a good player.”

Ryan toured Salem Country Club for the first time on Monday with caddie and good friend Dr. Leo Ludwig, an orthopedic surgeon. “He’ll be able to help me out if I throw a shoe,” joked Ryan, whose first of 21 USGA championships was the 1986 U.S. Amateur. “It’s a fun course to play and a typical Donald Ross course – you’ve got to keep the ball in the fairway and below the hole.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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