Manakin-Sabot, Va. – Mark Bemowski, 65, of Mukwonago, Wis., leads the USGA Senior Amateur Championship by two strokes over Chip Lutz, 56, of Reading, Pa., after Saturday’s morning wave of play at Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. Another wave of 78 players have afternoon starting times.
On a warm and sunny morning, Bemowski opened with three birdies on his first five holes en route to a 4-under 68 on the 6,829-yard, par-72 layout.
"It’s great to start out with a good round," said Bemowski. "I struck the ball really well today. Hopefully that’s a sign of more good things to come."
Though Bemowski was pleased with his start, the 2004 Senior Amateur champion acknowledges that shooting a low qualifying score doesn’t necessarily translate into a championship title.
"It really doesn’t mean a thing until you get into match play. But it’s nice to have a little momentum and feel like you’re playing pretty well. If I keep playing like I am now, I’ll be very competitive."
Lutz, who advanced to the semifinals of the 2010 championship, is looking to continue his phenomenal summer of 2011. After winning the Canadian Men's Senior Championship and the British Seniors Open Amateur Championship earlier this season, he comes to Kinloch attempting to equal the feat of Paul Simson, who won both those championships as well as the USGA Senior Amateur in 2010.
Lutz played a steady round, making just one bogey in his pursuit of the Senior Amateur title in his home country. After an even-par outward nine, Lutz birdied both par-5s coming in to post a 2-under 70.
"The course was very soft – balls were backing up with the driver – but the greens were still very fast, so sometimes you become tentative," said Lutz. "Starting out I hit the ball past the hole a few times but was able to navigate some tricky comeback putts. I can only imagine when these things dry out, they’ll be another foot or two faster which could make things really interesting."
That the course was even playable on Saturday is a testament to the hard work and preparation by Golf Course Manager Peter Wendt and his staff at Kinloch.
The Richmond region absorbed more than 6 inches of rain between Tuesday and Thursday from Tropical Storm Lee, in addition to the more-than 5 inches that fell from Hurricane Irene the previous week. The 11-plus inches of rain that has soaked the Richmond area is nearly three times the average rainfall for the area for the entire month of September (3.98 in., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Defending champion Paul Simson, 60, of Raleigh, N.C., made two birdies and one bogey in an unspectacular, but solid 1-under 71. Simson is trying to become the first player to successfully defend his title since William C. Campbell in 1980.
There were five other former Senior Amateur champions in the morning wave: Mike Rice (2005 winner, 73), George "Buddy" Marucci (2008 winner, 73), Mike Bell (2005 winner, 75), Stan Lee (2007 winner, 77) and Greg Reynolds (2002 winner, 78).
On Sunday, the golfers will compete in a second round of stroke-play qualifying. The field will then be cut to the low 64 scorers for match play, which begins Monday. The final five rounds of match play will be at Kinloch, with the championship scheduled to conclude with an 18-hole final on Thursday.
The USGA Senior Amateur, open to golfers 55 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at email@example.com.