Galloway Township, N.J. – As far as the USGA Men’s State Team Championship is concerned, Keith Decker can truly say he’s seen it all.
Decker is the only player to have competed in every Men’s State Team since its inception in 1995. That number reached 10 this week at Galloway National Golf Club.
In fact, the Martinsville, Va., resident helped Virginia claim the inaugural USGA Men’s State Team title in 1995 at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. Virginia was also a runner-up in the weather-shortened 1999 event at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, Va., and in 2001 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
Yet it’s his love for the game that keeps Decker coming back every other year.
“It’s pretty special to me,” said Decker. “Any USGA event is the pinnacle of amateur golf. I know every year when they are getting ready to have it so I really try hard, and try to play in a lot of tournaments that you get points for in Virginia and I’ve been fortunate to be picked each time.”
The 52-year-old owns 19 Virginia state titles, including a playoff victory over two-time USGA champion Vinny Giles in the 2010 Virginia State Senior Open. As far as USGA championships, Decker has competed in one U.S. Junior Amateur, one U.S. Amateur, five U.S. Mid-Amateurs, and of course, all 10 USGA Men’s State Teams.
Decker has definitely aged a little in 17 years, but he has gained maturity and wisdom along the way.
“I think I’m a better putter and maybe a little bit better all-around player. Believe it or not, I’m probably hitting the ball further now. I’ve never hit the ball any further than I do right now, and it’s not because I’m a perfect physical specimen, but because the equipment is better,” said Decker with a laugh.
In Decker’s 10 appearances for Virginia, he calls Galloway National the toughest test yet. And, honestly, who would know better?
“I think the green complexes and [hole locations] are just tougher. You really have to be pinpoint on your accuracy hitting it into the greens and once you get it on there, there’s no bargain at all,” said Decker.
Decker quickly – and not surprisingly – named Lake Nona as his favorite Men’s State Team venue. As the site of Virginia’s only title, it was an easy choice for the seven-time state Player of the Year.
Being the only 10-time participant, Decker has picked up a wealth of information. Yet, he likes to play his own game and let his teammates do the same. He’s playing this week with Scott Shingler and Buck Brittain.
“These guys are so hard-headed, they don’t listen at all. I’ve been babysitting them, I’ve been trying and trying,” joked Decker, who has two daughters and two sons with his wife, Shelly. “But no, really, they’re seasoned veterans themselves and they don’t need any help or advice from me.”
In Wednesday’s first round, Decker carded a 5-over 76 and Virginia was 10 over as a team. The 152 total tied Virginia for 22nd out of 52 teams.
In the second round on Thursday, Decker led the team with a 75, as Virginia posted a second consecutive 152.
Decker’s birdie on the ninth hole on Wednesday kept him at two over, but he started to lose momentum on the second nine.
“I was doing OK,” said Decker. “I made pars on the first four or five holes on the back. And then they said, ‘You guys gotta speed it up,’ and any time you do that, you get out of rhythm and I made a couple bogeys coming in. But I really can’t blame it on that, it was me.”
Whether Virginia takes home the trophy or not, Decker can’t be sure if his run in this championship will conclude. He will be 54 in 2014, when the Men’s State Team will next be contested.
“Two years from now I’m certainly going to try my hardest to get back on this team again, but we’ll see,” he said. “The kids are getting younger and better and stronger all the time so I have to grab every chance I can get.”
Kelly O’Shea is the USGA’s summer online intern. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.