CASHIERS, N.C. – Playoffs for the final spots in match play are almost inevitable. Very rarely does stroke-play qualifying produce a cut that falls with exactly 64 players.
But it’s also rare for a playoff to go five holes, or for the last two golfers standing to be college teammates.
That was the scenario Monday at Wade Hampton Golf Club. The last spot in the 13-for-6 playoff came down to Mike Peck, of Irving, Texas, and Kimble Cater, of Salinas, Calif., both of whom played on the Stanford University golf team in the late 1970s.
Peck finally prevailed on the fifth hole, knocking a pitching-wedge approach from a fairway bunker on the par-4 14th to 3 feet for a birdie, while Cater three-putted for a bogey.
“If there was anybody I would want to beat me it was Mike,” said Cater. “It is [tough]. In some way, the pressure was reduced a little bit. I was comfortable with him winning. Obviously I wanted to win myself, but he’s a great player.”
Peck, 56, certainly has enjoyed the more decorated career. He reached the semifinals of the 1978 U.S. Amateur, which earned him an invitation to the 1979 Masters. Back then, quarterfinalists from the U.S. Amateur earned invitations; today only the finalists are invited. He also played on the victorious 1979 USA Walker Cup Team before turning pro and playing five years on the PGA Tour.
Peck, a four-time All-American at Stanford, played in the 1981 and 1983 U.S. Opens as a professional, but eventually gave up tour life.
“It was not the same tour as it is today,” said Peck, who is self-employed. “The money wasn’t as great. Only if you were finishing in the top 40 every week, otherwise you were losing money.”
In 2012, Peck regained his amateur status and the 2013 Senior Amateur is his first USGA individual championship since the1979 U.S. Amateur. He went to lose, 4 and 3, to stroke-play medalist Chip Lutz in the first round of match play later on Monday.
Although he struggled a bit in stroke-play qualifying (80-76), Peck was hoping to use the momentum of the playoff to his advantage.
On the second playoff hole, Peck had a chance to advance, but three-putted for a bogey 4. On the next hole, he made a clutch 8-foot birdie to prevent Cater from advancing. Cater had made a short birdie putt ahead of him and from the fairway, Peck could see from the reaction that Cater had birdied the hole.
“He was not reacting like he had just made a par putt,” said Peck.
Added Cater: “I knew birdie would get you to the next hole … and I wasn’t sure if anyone else was going to birdie that hole. He made a great putt.”
Cater was competing in his first USGA championship since the 1975 U.S. Junior Amateur at Richland Country Club in Nashville, Tenn., where he lost in the third round to Scott Templeton, 5 and 4. Two years earlier at age 15, Cater qualified for his first Junior Amateur, then lost on the 21st hole to Poneu Barenaba from Hawaii in the Round of 16.
Family and work had kept him from trying to qualify for USGA events since leaving Stanford, but upon turning 55, he decided to file an entry for the Senior Amateur. He qualified and very nearly made it into match play.
“I was very fortunate to get into the event,” he said. “It was a great week.”
Wade Hampton has received plenty of platitudes from golf publications, and Hill Adams won’t disagree with them.
Adams, who opened match play with a 5-and-3 victory over James Gallagher, serves as a Golf Digest rater. The 55-year-old from Katy, Texas, has rated more than 100 courses since he joined the panel in 1999, and he gives Wade Hampton high marks.
“I would say this is one of the best courses I’ve ever played,” said Adams, who is playing in his first USGA championship. “I haven’t played Pine Valley and I haven’t played Augusta [National], but I have played a lot of the others in the top 10, top 25 and this belongs there. It’s terrific. The scenery is spectacular. The conditioning is really good.”
As a rater, Adams is given a list of intangibles to fill out, everything from playability and shot values to how memorable the holes are. Those numbers are crunched and measured against other courses to determine America’s Top 100.
Wade Hampton designer Tom Fazio spoke at the players’ dinner on Friday night, but Adams didn’t get to meet him. He did attend a Golf Digest raters’ summit a few years back, where Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Arnold Palmer and Pete Dye spoke.
“That was really special,” said Adams.
Brady Exber, who is competing in his 18th USGA event and second Senior Amateur, posted the lowest round of the championship on Monday with a 5-under 67, a round he credited to his caddie, 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin Marsh.
Marsh, 40, and Exber, 57, both live in Greater Las Vegas and have known and competed against each other since 2006.
“He’s such a good putter and green reader,” said Exber, who eliminated 2009 Senior Amateur champion Vinny Giles in 19 holes on Monday afternoon.
Marsh caddied for Exber at his Senior Amateur qualifier on Aug. 13 at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, Nev., where he shot 70 and survived a playoff with Steve Johnson for the lone available spot. Marsh, who will play in next week’s Crump Cup at Pine Valley in New Jersey before going to the U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.), then told Exber he was going to fly to North Carolina and caddie for him at Wade Hampton.
“He told me, I don’t think you’ll do any good without me,” said Exber, a member of the Southern Nevada Golf Hall of Fame and a nine-time Southern Nevada Golf Association Player of the Year. “He booked his airfare and everything. He’s amazing.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.