U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Lewis, Russo Share Lead After Round 1 at Old Warson September 17, 2016 | St. Louis, Mo. By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Joe Russo's 3-under 68 on Saturday included an eagle on the par-5 12th hole. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Randal Lewis and Joe Russo both shot 3-under-par 68 to share the lead after Saturday’s first round of stroke play in the 62nd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, being contested at the 7,061-yard, par-71 Old Warson Country Club.

Lewis, 59, of Alma, Mich., is no stranger to USGA championships, having competed in more than 30, highlighted by his 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur victory, which made him the oldest winner in that championship’s history by four years.

A quarterfinalist in last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur, Lewis carded four birdies and an eagle. He made eagle on the 533-yard, par-5 sixth hole after flying the green with his 3-wood approach and one-hopping his chip in the hole. He birdied Nos. 2 and 11 after hitting pitching wedges to inside a foot.

"I had some good yardages today that were comfortable with the wedges, so that's always good when you can get a number where you don't have to take too much off," said Lewis.

While strong wedge play led to birdie opportunities, Lewis gave most of the credit for his strong play to the green-reading ability of his caddie, Mike Smith, who has caddied at Old Warson since 1968, including the 1971 Ryder Cup when he toted for Jack Nicklaus.

"I had a phenomenal caddie. He was just unbelievable. He's a genius when it comes to this golf course,” said Lewis. “When you have somebody that you have total confidence in and knows the course as well as he does, all I have to do is replicate what he tells me. That helped a bunch, because I made a lot of putts today and his reads were spot-on every time."

Russo, 59, of Sewell, N.J., shook off some early nerves to start his day with a birdie on No. 1. Three more birdies were offset by three bogeys, but he finished 3 under thanks to an eagle on the 555-yard, par-5 12th. Russo hit a 19-degree rescue club with his second shot, then made a 20-foot uphill putt.

"I was so nervous on the first tee. I can't even tell you how nervous I was,” said Russo, a retired police officer. “I texted my wife and son and they texted back to stop being nervous. So opening with a birdie definitely calmed me down. If you bogey the first hole, you're playing catch-up right away."

Finishing one stroke behind Lewis and Russo was 2014 Senior Amateur runner-up Bryan Norton, 57, of Mission Hills, Kan. Norton began his day with two birdies and got to as low as 4 under with back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12. He made bogeys on 13 and 16, and had a birdie opportunity on 18 that would have put him 3 under, but he left it just short. “I had a green-light putt and I hit a yellow-light putt,” he said.

Even with the near-miss on 18, Norton was pleased with his opening-round effort.

"I made the two birdies early on the back nine to get to 4 under, then gave a couple away. But I was proud of the way I was able to hold it together and come in strong,” said Norton, who finished runner-up in the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur and tied for 31st in the 1990 Open Championship at St. Andrews, when he competed full-time on the PGA European Tour. “I played 17 and 18 great."

Two competitors finished at 1-under 70: 2015 Senior Amateur quarterfinalist Gary Robinson, 57, of Fayetteville, N.C., and Randy Haag, 57, of Orinda, Calif.

Last year’s runner-up, Tom Brandes, 60, of Bellevue, Wash., shot even-par 71, where he was joined by 1994 and 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, 57, of Germantown, Tenn; 1979 Walker Cup competitor Mike Peck, 60, of Irving, Texas; and 2014 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Patrick Tallent, 63, of Vienna, Va.

Defending champion Chip Lutz, 61, of Reading, Pa., shot 6-over 77.  

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org

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