U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
3 Things to Know: Stroke Play
August 23, 2019 | Durham, N.C.
By David Shefter, USGA
For the second time this month – and third time in 2019 – a USGA championship will be held in North Carolina. A week after Andy Ogletree claimed the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, an elite field of 55-and-older golfers are gathering at Old Chatham Golf Club for the 65th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.
This will be the first USGA championship for Old Chatham, a course designed by Rees Jones and opened in 2001. While the Tar Heel State has hosted 32 USGA events, this is just the third Senior Amateur contested in the state: 2000 at Charlotte Country Club and 2013 at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers.
North Carolina will be well represented in the field with nine players – the third-most behind California (16) and Florida (15) – and led by two-time champion Paul Simson (2010, 2012), who resides not far from Old Chatham in Raleigh.
The championship begins with two rounds of stroke play, followed by six rounds of match play that concludes with Thursday’s 18-hole final.
So as the competitors make their final preparations and gather their nerves for the first of two 18-hole stroke-play rounds, here are three things to know:
Defending the Crown
Last August, Jeff Wilson, of Fairfield, Calif., ended the longest drought among any of the USGA amateur championships, becoming the first medalist in 37 years to win the U.S. Senior Amateur. Wilson, one of two players – along with fellow competitor Marvin “Vinny” Giles – to have earned low-amateur honors in the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, is also the only player to have been medalist in a U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur. Now he’ll look to become the first to successfully defend a U.S. Senior Amateur title since William C. Campbell in 1979-80.
Last year, Sean Knapp came within one match of achieving the feat, falling in the final to Wilson. Several players since Campbell have managed to register multiple Senior Amateur titles, just not consecutively. That list includes the aforementioned Simson, Bill Shean Jr., Kemp Richardson, Lewis Oehmig, R.S. “Bo” Williams, William Hyndman III and O. Gordon Brewer.
For many, the Senior Amateur offers a last chance to qualify for a USGA championship. Some finally strike gold after trying 40 and sometimes 50 years. Then there are those players who are returning to the national stage after a long hiatus. The reasons can be many – jobs and family to simply not producing good enough scores to qualify – but the thrill of competing is still just as invigorating. This year, brothers Paul and Bob Royak are competing in the same USGA championship for the first time since the 2004 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Paul, 55, of Tampa, Fla., who spent six years as an operations manager for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, became eligible this year. Bob, 57, of Alpharetta, Ga., was the 2017 Georgia State Golf Association’s Senior Player of the Year.
There are others who fit into this category. Raymond Hajjar, 55, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is playing his first USGA championship since the 1980 U.S. Junior Amateur. Greg Cesario, of San Marcos, Calif., is back for the first time in 36 years (1983 U.S. Amateur). Rob Campbell, 56, of Newbury Park, Calif., and a pilot for American Airlines, last competed in a USGA championship in 1995 (U.S. Mid-Amateur). Robby Kirby, 59, of Charlotte, N.C., last appeared in the 1997 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Kirby won the North Carolina Senior Four-Ball title two years ago.
Virtually all of the Senior Amateur competitors are old enough to remember the crazy antics of Evel Knievel. He was the daredevil who often hurled himself into dangerous situations by soaring over automobiles, buses and natural landmarks on his motorcycle. He is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broken bones (433). But Evel was also a golf nut, and he passed that passion down to his oldest son, Kelly. While Kelly decided not to follow in dad’s footsteps as a thrill-seeker – he left to his younger brother Robbie – he did perfect his skills as a golfer. He just flies over a different kind of hazard.
Kelly, 58, of Las Vegas, Nev., qualified for his second USGA championship – he missed the match-play cut in the 2000 U.S. Mid-Amateur – last month in Boise, Idaho. Kelly, who manages a construction business, hasn’t totally abandoned his father’s exploits. He owns memorabilia and intellectual property that still have cache today, 12 years after Evel’s death.
“Right before he died, [my dad] said, ‘Kelly, I am going to be worth more dead than alive,” Kelly said in a 2012 interview with the USGA. “And if you can’t figure out how to make money with it, you don’t deserve it.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.