West Caldwell, N.J. – The conditions on Wednesday at the 58th USGA Senior Amateur went from soggy to foggy seemingly at the flip of a switch.
After more than an inch of rain caused nearly a two-hour weather delay, Mountain Ridge Country Club suddenly became shrouded in fog, making it seem like the competitors had been dispatched to Transylvania.
Or, perhaps, the San Francisco Bay Area, minus the chilly temperatures.
“Probably about 20 degrees warmer,” said semifinalist Jim Knoll, a Sunnyvale, Calif., native who is all too familiar with conditions on the Northern California coast. “Or [the] Monterey [Peninsula]. We play a lot of events in Monterey. With the humidity, it was quite a combination.”
The fog’s density occasionally made it difficult to see an entire hole, but the semifinalists managed to play through the challenging conditions.
Some adjustments, however, had to be made.
“We had to make adjustments as far as distance control is concerned,” said Knoll, a 3-and-2 loser to 2010 USGA Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson. “The course drained really well considering all the water that we had. I don’t think we moved our ball once for casual water. I had mud on it a couple of times.”
Added Simson: “It never got so bad that your vision was impeded. There was never any question that it was fine and the course drained just fantastically; I thought we’d be out there in slop.”
In fact, Simson was ready to play even more golf on Wednesday afternoon, considering he was the equivalent of seven under par for 16 holes in his win over Knoll.
“Can we keep going?” he asked. “I’m on a roll right now.”
Curtis Skinner, a finalist in his first USGA Senior Amateur, tried his best to block the fog out and just focus on the task at hand. The 55-year-old from Lake Bluff, Ill., managed a tough 2-and-1 win over Doug Hanzel, winning holes 16 and 17 after his opponent had won Nos. 13-15 to square the match.
“You just keep your head down and keep going,” said Skinner. “Everybody is playing in the same stuff. Everyone is going to make mistakes. Everyone gets mud on their ball. You make the best of it and try not to complain when something bad happens.”
Walk This Way
The rain came down hard in the midst of Wednesday’s quarterfinal round of match play. After a 1-hour, an 56-minute rain delay, the quarterfinalists of the USGA Senior Amateur headed back out to the course. But they were missing something – their carts.
The USGA has allowed Senior Amateur competitors to ride the course for the past 43 years, and more often than not, the players take advantage of this concession. When the championship began in 1955, carts were not allowed. Traditionalists, who believed that walking the course was vital to deciding a national champion, finally relented in 1969 because the championship is played in the fall, when it can be difficult to obtain caddies.
Fortunately, it didn’t seem to affect the players at Mountain Ridge, whose matches were on the eighth through the 11th holes when play resumed. In fact, they welcomed it.
“[It didn’t affect my game] at all because I’m a walker at home, [and walking here this afternoon] was actually comforting for me,” said Knoll, who advanced to the semifinals by defeating Louis Lee, 2 and 1. “I was walking with Louis and Stan, who I consider to be two good friends of mine, and it was fun. It was a little sloppy but a lot of fun.”
Hanzel, who defeated Pat O’Donnell, 3 and 1, in the quarterfinals before falling in the semifinals to Skinner, shared Knoll’s sentiments.
“I’ve been in pretty good shape. I’ve played the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open and you have to walk there,” said Hanzel. “I’ve been walking all summer so conditioning is not a problem.”
The two USGA Senior Amateur finalists receive exemptions into the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. But it’s an exemption that sometimes goes unused. This year, Louis Lee did not play at Cherry Hills and 2011 runner-up Phillip Pleat thought about not going until his son qualified for the same event.
When Simson was asked about playing next year’s Amateur, he hesitated for a moment.
“Those boys are a little too tough,” said Simson of the U.S. Amateur field, which is traditionally loaded with young collegiate stars.
But when told where the Amateur was being conducted and the rich history of the club, he slightly changed his tune.
He looked at his son/caddie Phillip and said: “I might have to get up there. It’s lobster country.”
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Kelly O’Shea is the USGA’s summer online intern. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.