Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Forgive Jack Larkin if the situation felt a bit strange. Here he was playing a practice round at the U.S. Amateur, joined by 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, who was caddieing for his son, Robert. During qualifying, Larkin was joined by Larry Smith, who was carrying the bag for his son, three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and two-time USA Walker Cup participant Nathan Smith.
Jack Larkin, too, was carrying a bag. But it was Jack Larkin Jr., not senior.
“I am in the same boat as them, but I just flipped it,” said the elder Larkin, who is playing in his seventh U.S. Amateur this week and 11th USGA championship overall.
Larkin’s first USGA competition was 33 years ago, and it has become a fond memory. At Moss Creek G.C. in Hilton Head Island, S.C., he defeated Billy Tuten, 1 up, to win the 1979 U.S. Junior Amateur. The gold medal sits in his Atlanta home and Jack Jr., the oldest of his three children, often looks at it. The younger Larkin, 16, is an aspiring golfer, having competed in some American Junior Golf Association events, but this week at Cherry Hills Country Club and CommonGround Golf Course, he is caddieing for his dad.
“He knows it’s there,” said Jack Sr., now 50, of the medal. “He wants one himself.”
Jack Sr. would like another one. In fact, he has told his father that he’d win another one for him. But it won’t come in Colorado. Rounds of 75-77, the second coming at Cherry Hills, left Larkin well off the match-play cut.
While competitive on the course, Larkin, who last played the Amateur in 2003 at Oakmont (Pa.) C.C., barely has time to play in major competitions. His brother, sister and brother-in-law represent several wineries in seven Southeast states, and the family business puts him on the road throughout North and South Carolina. When he’s not traveling, he spends time with his three boys. His wife is a flight attendant for Delta.
Larkin occasionally sneaks out and plays a few holes or gets in a little practice time at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, his home course. Rarely will he play 18 holes except when he is attempting to qualify for a USGA championship. He was first alternate for last month’s U.S. Senior Open, before going on to earn his first U.S. Amateur berth in nine years.
In the 1980s, Larkin competed for the University of Georgia and reached the quarterfinals of the 1988 U.S. Amateur, where he lost to fellow Atlanta resident and club member Danny Yates at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. “He shot 31 on the front nine and I didn’t have a chance,” recalled Larkin.
Larkin spent a few years as a pro, playing in Australia and on the Hogan Tour (now Web.com Tour) before deciding that golf took too much time away from family life. He regained his amateur status in 1995 and rediscovered his love of competition.
Larkin wouldn’t blame his disappointing performance this week on age. Heck, fellow Georgian Doug Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, qualified for match play at even-par 141.
“I always thought age was just a state of mind,” said Larkin. “It’s always how you feel.”
One thing that has changed since the early 1980s is the level of play. Larkin recalled that a score of one to four over par was typically good enough at sectional qualifying. Last month, Larkin needed a 4-under score to qualify and there were more spots and participants.
“It’s way better [now],” he said of the competition.
At home, his competition comes from Jack Jr. This year he was unsuccessful in qualifying for the Junior Amateur, but he will have another shot in 2013.
And who knows, they might play in a USGA championship together someday.
One minute, Jeff Champine was admiring whales from the deck and enjoying midnight buffets, and the next he was boarding a private plane to make his starting time at the U.S. Amateur. The 40-year-old from Rochester Hills, Mich., cut short a seven-day Alaskan cruise on Sunday to fly from Victoria, British Columbia, to Denver, arriving at 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, 12 hours before his scheduled first round at CommonGround Golf Course.
Without a practice round, Champine carded a 4-over 74 before struggling to an 86 in Tuesday’s second round at Cherry Hills Country Club to miss the cut.
Nevertheless, Champine said he wouldn’t have missed the chance to play in another Amateur.
“My wife … knows what this means to me,” said Champine, who also qualified for the 2006 and 2010 Amateurs and has played in two U.S. Mid-Amateurs. “I really appreciate it.”
Champine planned the family cruise five months ago. His wife and their two young children were joined on the Disney Wonder by Champine’s sister-in-law and mother- and father-in-law. In fact, it was Bruce Becker, Champine’s father-in-law, who arranged for a private plane to take Champine from Victoria to Denver.
“There are no commercial flights from Victoria,” he said. “If it wasn’t for [Bruce], I wouldn’t be here.”
Going on a cruise might not be the best preparation for the U.S. Amateur, but Champine said the cruise was “unbelievable.”
“I actually got to see all of it,” he said. “I just missed the last leg from Victoria to Seattle.”
Champine won’t have to wait long for his next big golf event. He is playing in a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier Thursday in Michigan.
Chalk up one for the 50-and-over set. Doug Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, Ga., the low amateur at last month’s U.S. Senior Open, qualified for match play at even-par 141. He is believed to be the oldest player to advance to match play since the USGA reimplemented 36-hole, on-site qualifying at the U.S. Amateur in 1979.
From 1947 to 1963, the Amateur was contested completely at match play. In 1967, the USGA began conducting the Amateur at stroke play (72 holes), a format that continued until 1973 when it returned to an all-match-play format. In 1979, 36-hole, on-site qualifying returned.
“It means I’ve played some good golf because there are a lot of good players out here when you get into a … U.S. Amateur,” said Hanzel, who is competing in his 16th USGA event, spanning five decades. “You’ve got the world’s best, not just the United States’ best. The Senior Open you’ve got the same thing, the world’s best seniors. So I’ve played well. You always think you could play a little better, but it’s been good for someone who works for a living.”
No Golden Bear, But Plenty Of Golden Bears
Gary Nicklaus, the son of 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, failed to advance to match play after making a costly bogey at his closing hole, the par-4 ninth at Cherry Hills, that left the 43-year-old reinstated amateur two strokes off the match-play cut of 2-over 143. Nicklaus shot a 3-over 74 on Tuesday after opening with a 1-over 71 on Monday at CommonGround.
But even though the Golden Bear – Jack came out this week with his wife, Barbara, to watch Gary – won’t be around for the first round of match play Wednesday, there will be plenty of Golden Bears. The University of California-Berkeley, which had five golfers in the field, will have at least three in match play. Max Homa, a 2010 quarterfinalist, Michael Kim and Brandon Hagy each qualified, while Michael Weaver will be in a 17-for-14 playoff Wednesday morning at Cherry Hills for the final match-play berths. Incoming freshman Walker Huddy missed the cut (2-over 143) by one stroke.
Bowen Sargent, of Charlottesville, Va., is one of four competitors in the field this week to have played in the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills. The 43-year-old returned as the men’s golf coach at the University of Virginia, with two of his Cavaliers joining him in the field.
Denny McCarthy, of Rockville, Md., will be in Wednesday’s 17-for-14 playoff to get into the match-play draw, while Nick McLaughlin, of New Castle, N.H., shot 8-over 149 and missed by six strokes. Sargent had a rougher time, carding 13-over 154.
“It’s neat playing alongside them because I coach them all the time,” said Sargent. “I never get to play much with them, to be honest. So it’s neat to get on this side of the ropes with them and compete because I just don’t get that opportunity much.”
Asked if any of the players teased him about the coach-player relationship, Sargent added: “Not really … but obviously they don’t want to get beat by their coach. And I want to beat them. They play and compete too much for me to be able to play with them.”
It’s been a pretty good month for Sargent. Not only did he qualify for the Amateur, one of his recent Cavalier players, Ben Kohles, won his first two professional starts on the Web.com Tour to likely earn his PGA Tour card for the 2013 season.
Current USA Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve arrived on site Monday to begin evaluating candidates for next year’s USA Team. He was seen near the Cherry Hills C.C. clubhouse Tuesday afternoon chatting with another former USA captain, Bob Lewis Jr. Lewis was here to watch his son, Tristan, compete in his first U.S. Amateur.
Tristan was in the hunt for a match-play spot until he double-bogeyed his final two holes – Nos. 17 and 18 at Cherry Hills – to shoot 3-over 74.
The elder Lewis was the runner-up to Hal Sutton at the 1980 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst, and he played on four USA Walker Cup Teams. Holtgrieve won the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981 at Bellerive C.C. in his hometown of St. Louis and represented the USA in three Walker Cups.
Next year’s Walker Cup will be contested Sept. 7-8 at The National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.
Seven past USGA champions failed to advance to match play, including reigning U.S. Junior champion Andy Hyeon Bo Shim (148) and reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur titlist Randy Lewis (151). Others who failed to get inside the cut of 2-over 143 included past Junior Amateur champions Cory Whitsett (145), Jim Liu (147) and Jack Larkin (152), past Amateur Public Links champion Tim Hogarth (147) and three-time Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith (148).
Other notable players who failed to advance included Robert Mize (153), son of 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, Eric Hallberg (150), son of 1977 Walker Cup member Gary Hallberg, Tristan Lewis (147), son of 1980 U.S. Amateur runner-up and Walker Cupper Bob Lewis Jr., world No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama (145), 17-year-old two-time U.S. Open qualifier Beau Hossler (144) and Cherry Hills member Matt Schovee (146).
The cut came at 2-over 143, with 17 golfers playing off for the final 14 spots at 7 a.m. on Wednesday at Cherry Hills.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.