Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – There’s a bit of irony that Philip Pleat is back at Cherry Hills Country Club this week with his son, James.
Twenty-two years ago, Pleat qualified for his first U.S. Amateur Championship, which was conducted at Cherry Hills. But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Pleat’s wife, Lisa, was expecting to give birth to the couple’s second child within a few weeks, and was advised by her doctor not to travel. Philip traveled to Colorado on his own, and after two qualifying rounds, he returned to Nashua, N.H., where a week later, James Pleat was born.
James would grow to love golf as much as his dad, and on Monday, the two became just the fourth father/son duo to compete in the same U.S. Amateur. What’s better, they are doing it at Cherry Hills, where Philip, the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur runner-up, made his Amateur debut in 1990.
|Father/Son Duos To Play In Same U.S. Amateur
|Dick and Dixie Chapman (1958)
Paul and Brett Quigley (1988)
Michael and David Derminio (2001)
Philip and James Pleat (2012)
Philip was exempt into the field based on his Senior Amateur performance last fall, while James, a senior at Dartmouth College, qualified for the second consecutive year. Last year at Erin Hills/Blue Mound Country Club, with his father as his caddie, James missed the match-play cut by one stroke with rounds of 70-73.
“This is the highlight of my golf career,” said Philip, at 56 the oldest competitor in the 312-player field. Philip opened the first round of stroke-play qualifying on Monday with an 11-over 82 at Cherry Hills, while James was 10 shots better at the par-70 CommonGround Golf Course.
A few weeks ago, James had his previous best moment in the game when he caddied for his father at the U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & C.C., north of Detroit. He walked among some of the game’s greatest players; his father played a practice round with two-time Masters champion and 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer.
But when James recently shot a 5-over 145 to garner one of the three available qualifying spots at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., he created an even better golf experience: playing in the same USGA championship as his father.
“I just really wanted to come back,” said James of the U.S. Amateur. “It’s a fun tournament. It’s the best really for amateur golf. I was unfortunate making a couple of bogeys coming in during my second round [last year]. I learned that I can make match play. I wasn’t really sure if I could when I first got there.”
The two Pleats have played hundreds of rounds together, mainly at Nashua Country Club, where they often sneak out to play a few holes in the summer after Philip makes the 20-minute commute home from his job as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch in Manchester. They have also competed against each other in numerous New Hampshire state events, where Philip is a three-time state amateur champion and owns a total of 14 New Hampshire titles. James won the 2006 New Hampshire Junior title and is a past New Hampshire high school champion.
But they have never faced each other in match play.
Ever since he started hitting balls with a plastic club at age 5, James has wanted to be like his father and grandfather, Thomas Leonard Jr., an eight-time New Hampshire Amateur champion who played in the U.S. Amateur. Another uncle won the New Hampshire State Seniors a few years ago.
James slowly developed his game under his father’s tutelage and eventually beat him when he was 14.
“I think back to how he’s grown [as a player] and how much farther he hit it every year,” said Philip, who is competing in his sixth U.S. Amateur this week. “Then finally he was hitting it by me. I was happy because that’s the way it is supposed to happen.”
Philip Pleat got his start in the game as a caddie at Portland Country Club in Falmouth, Maine. He also caddied at the Maine Open, which through the years attracted professionals such as 1970 U.S. Amateur champion Lanny Wadkins and Jim Dent. Pleat often carried for former University of Houston All-American John Mills.
Pleat grew up playing Riverside Golf Course, a municipal layout in Portland, where Mike “Fluff” Cowan served as the assistant superintendent. Philip learned a lot playing in the evenings with Cowan, who has gone on to notoriety as the caddie for Peter Jacobson, Tiger Woods and, for the past 13 years, Jim Furyk. Philip would go on to play at the University of New Hampshire.
In 1978, Philip qualified for his first USGA championship, making it to the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Public Links, which was played at Bangor (Maine) Municipal Golf Course. He would qualify for several U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Mid-Amateurs while raising two children – his daughter, Jennie, now 25, played high school golf and was a Division III basketball player at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. Pleat’s greatest USGA success would come in 2011, when he reached the final of the USGA Senior Amateur at Kinloch G.C. in suburban Richmond, Va., losing, 1 down, to Louis Lee.
He was the second New Hampshire golfer to lose a USGA final in 2011, joining U.S. Junior runner-up Chelso Barrett, of Keene.
His run at Kinloch surprised Pleat, because he had not been playing particularly well entering the championship.
“Last year I didn’t play much at all, so the [Senior Amateur] in the fall was great,” said Philip. “It was a surprise.”
Knowing he had earned exemptions into several USGA championships for 2012, Philip wasn’t sure if he wanted to compete against the young talent at the Amateur. His last U.S. Amateur appearance had been 15 years ago at Cog Hill in Lemont, Ill., and he had never qualified for match play in his five Amateurs.
Something told him to enter the championship. After all, it was being held at Cherry Hills, where he had played his first Amateur. While the course has been lengthened to more than 7,400 yards, most of the William Flynn design returned to Philip’s memory bank when he visited the club this week, including the two finishing holes and the par-4 first hole, where Arnold Palmer drove the green in his final-round 65 in his 1960 U.S. Open triumph.
All that history was too good to pass up. And when Philip caddied for James at his qualifier, his decision more than paid off.
What could be better than spending a few days at the U.S. Amateur with your son also in the field?
Because the two are on opposite ends of the qualifying draw – Philip plays Cherry Hills on Monday, then the companion qualifying course CommonGround, while James has the opposite order – the two were unable to play official practice rounds together over the weekend. They did get in some practice together on Friday with Philip providing advice where appropriate.
“I will always take advice from him,” said James, who turns 21 on Aug. 27.
Philip is James’ biggest supporter. He rarely misses a college tournament, unless he’s got a competition himself, such as last fall when he was in the Senior Amateur while James competed at Bethpage State Park. The two traveled to Ireland a few weeks ago to play in a member/guest at Old Head, having been invited by a Dartmouth alumnus who is a supporter of the school’s golf program. Neither had ever played in Ireland and they relished the time together.
Because of their busy schedules, James and Philip have not taken many golf trips together. Their bond has been formed from countless rounds at Nashua C.C. or in state tournaments. Balancing work and golf while raising two children, it has been a challenge for Philip to stay competitive, but he credits wife Lisa for her understanding and support.
Lisa has also come to Cherry Hills this week, something she couldn’t do 22 years ago. James has a cousin, Joel St. Laurent, a former golfer at William and Mary, on his bag, while Philip is using a Cherry Hills caddie.
James, an economics major at Dartmouth, hopes this won’t be the last time he and his father tee it up together in a USGA championship. At the moment, he doesn’t have plans to play the game professionally. Ideally, he would like to stay in New England and remain competitive in amateur golf.
The demanding academic environment while playing Division I golf at Dartmouth – he earned All-Northeast Division I honors in 2011-2012 – has helped James prepare for life after college. He will serve as the team’s captain in 2012-13 and plans to graduate next June. His goal is to find a job that will enable him to play the game at a high level.
James would love to emulate what his father has achieved.
“It’s a game for a lifetime,” said Philip. “It’s special.”
Added James: “I would love to be able to play … in this tournament as many times as I can.”
Perhaps someday James can carry his father’s legacy and play in a future USGA championship with his own son.
It would be fitting if it came at Cherry Hills.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.