U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
After Years of Playing For Cash, Liebler Relishes Trophy Chase
September 30, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
By Tom Mackin
Nerves were an issue for Steven Liebler, of Irmo, S.C., when he played in his first USGA championship, the 1973 U.S. Junior Amateur, at Singing Hills Country Club in El Cajon, Calif., as a 13-year-old.
More than four decades later, a sense of calm prevails at his first U.S. Senior Amateur, where he advanced to the semifinals on Wednesday morning with a 6-and-5 win over Kevin Cahill, of Waukesha, Wis.
“Nerves aren’t much of an issue anymore, having played on the PGA Tour for almost five years in the early 1980s,” said Liebler, 56, who also played in two U.S. Opens (1984 and 1985). “Now playing for fun and for a trophy is just one of those things you enjoy. I really do.”
His career line from those Tour days (1982-85) reads 91 events played, with four top-10 finishes among his 41 cuts made. He went on to coach the golf program at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, from 1985-94, guiding the Gamecocks to four berths in NCAA postseason play.
Playing well this week has certainly added to Liebler’s enjoyment. He won the first three holes of his semifinal match against Cahill with pars before going on a birdie binge.
“I just played solid all the way through,” said Liebler, the No. 6 seed in match play, who made birdies at the fifth, eighth and ninth holes before ending the match with another one the 13th.
“I haven’t made a lot of birdies during match play, but I haven’t made a lot of bogeys,” he said. “I’ve driven it really well and my ball control into the greens has been good. I’ve gotten the ball fairly close to pin-high most of the time.”
He considers the latter a key to winning at Hidden Creek Golf Club.
“You really have to position yourself on the greens because they are so big,” Liebler said. “The golf course is in great shape and it’s very difficult. It plays a lot longer than what the yardage says.”
Liebler has also benefited from his extensive playing experience, which includes competing in every USGA championship he has been eligible for (except for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, which was introduced earlier this year). His best previous performance was reaching the semifinals in the 2005 Mid-Amateur at The Honors Course in Tenn., where he lost to Kevin Marsh.
“He played really solid when he beat me and I think he had the largest winning margin ever that year (Marsh defeated Carlton Forrester, 10 and 9, in the final),” recalled Liebler.
The biggest lesson he took from that loss was patience. “I wasn’t very patient back then,” said Liebler, who took on No. 10 seed Tom Brandes, of Bellevue, Wash., in the semifinals. “I am now. Hopefully that will pay off today.”
He is also not the first member of his family to advance to the semifinals of a USGA championship. Liebler’s late brother, Lloyd, was a runner-up as a 14-year old in the 1965 U.S. Junior Amateur at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club to James Masserio. The next year, Lloyd Liebler won the first of two consecutive Virginia State Golf Association Junior Am titles by shooting a final-round 64, beating Lanny Wadkins by six strokes. A golf career full of potential was cut short when he died of cancer at age 20.
“I think I have gotten over that,” said Liebler. “For a lot of years that was a tough thing to handle. He was my hero.”
One who would be very proud of his younger brother’s performance at the 2015 U.S Senior Amateur.
“I hope so,” said Liebler.
New Jersey native Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.