Mike Bell, 59, of Indianapolis, Ind., made an 8-foot putt for par on the 18th hole Thursday to win the 2006 USGA Senior Amateur Championship, 1 up, over Tom McGraw, 55, of Montgomery, Texas, at Victoria National Golf Club.
With the match all square on the water-lined par-4 18th, Bell knocked his second shot into a greenside bunker but hit his recovery to 8 feet. McGraw missed the green short and right from the fairway. His pitch settled 15 feet below the hole and he missed the par attempt. Bell then converted his putt for the championship, followed by a leap of joy.
"Outside of marrying my wife, this is the greatest day in my life,” Bell said. “I love this trophy. Can I keep it?”
Bell, the owner of a school services company, built a 3-up lead through six holes despite losing the seventh hole with a bogey. He returned his advantage to three holes when McGraw double bogeyed the eighth.
McGraw, a commercial banker playing in his first Senior Amateur but his 11th USGA championship, slowly made a surge on the second nine holes.
He made a winning birdie from 15 feet on the par-5 10th. McGraw also won the 12th when Bell could not escape from a buried greenside lie that resulted in a double bogey to cut the Texan’s deficit to one hole.
On the 15th, both players had birdie putts of similar length. Playing first, McGraw, a two-time Colorado Mid-Amateur and Publinks winner, made his 15-footer and Bell missed to square the match. They halved the 16th and also the 17th, when both players missed short par putts.
The winner of the 2006 Indiana State Senior Amateur and the Senior Porter Cup, Bell received his place in the field when Jerry Jackson of Kokomo, Ind., withdrew because of some family health concerns. Bell duplicated the feat of 2002 champion Greg Reynolds of Grand Blanc, Mich., who also won as an alternate.
Bell spends some of the winter months in Florida and practices more than he plays.
"My friends ask why I practice and don’t play and I told them that I wanted to have a chance at being the Senior Amateur champion,” Bell said. “Everybody thought I was crazy but I kept getting better. So, to actually win it is beyond my wildest dreams.”
McGraw, a commercial banker playing in his first Senior Amateur but his 11th USGA championship, was clearly disappointed. He survived a seven-way playoff for the final six berths in the field of match play.
"I made lots of mistakes,” said McGraw, who has experience in more than 10 USGA championships. “I played very poorly (Thursday). I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t get it done. I didn’t get it in the hole when I needed to.”
Bell became the first champion to win in his home state since Chicago’s Bill Shean won the 1998 championship at Skokie (Ill.) Country Club.
Each one of the finalists, en route to the last match, defeated one of the co-medalists. Bell beat Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., 4 and 3, in the quarterfinals. McGraw beat Bill Leonard of Kennesaw, Ga., 4 and 3, in the semifinals. In his semifinal match, Bell defeated 2003 quarterfinalist Sam Farlow, 59, of Birmingham, Ala., 4 and 2.
Both the semifinal and final rounds were played Thursday to make up for the time lost during Monday’s heavy rainstorm, which postponed play.
The champion receives a gold medal and custody of the Frederick L. Dold Trophy for the ensuing year.
Semifinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2007 U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. Quarterfinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2007 USGA Senior Amateur at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan.
The USGA Senior Amateur, for players 55 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA.