U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Five Things to Watch for at Minikahda August 26, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Ron Driscoll

Bryan Norton, runner-up in two USGA championships, was also a runner-up at Minikahda, to Robert Wrenn in the 1981 Trans-Miss Amateur. (USGA/Chris Keane)

The 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship begins on Saturday at 7 a.m. CDT at The Minikahda Club, a venerable layout on the shores of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis that counts Charles “Chick” Evans and Bob Jones among USGA champions to be crowned here. The club hosted its most recent USGA championship in 1998, when the USA Team regained the Curtis Cup by winning the Match, 10-8, over Great Britain and Ireland.

This week’s championship will feature 63 matches before a champion is decided on Thursday, Aug. 31. Two rounds of stroke play are scheduled, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, to trim the 156-player field to 64 for the start of the match-play bracket on Monday. Here are five things to watch for as play commences:

Weather permitting: Although the focus nationwide is on Hurricane Harvey in Texas, rain unrelated to that storm system is expected to have an impact on the start of this championship. Roughly 1½ inches of rain was expected to fall before the end of the afternoon on Saturday, and both the start of play Saturday morning and the condition of the golf course once play does begin would be affected by such rainfall totals. The good news is that this classic Donald Ross design typically drains very well, and conditions are expected to improve as the week progresses.

Local knowledge: Five Minnesotans are in the field, and they have no doubt competed in state and regional events at Minikahda. Another player who is familiar with the course – albeit from many years ago – is Bryan Norton, of Mission Hills, Kan. Norton finished as the runner-up when the prestigious Trans-Miss Amateur was played at Minikahda in 1981. Among future PGA Tour winners in that championship were Tom Lehman, Tom Pernice Jr., Blaine McCallister, Joel Edwards, Chris Perry and Robert Wrenn, who defeated Norton in the championship match. Norton, who helped Kansas capture a USGA State Team Championship in 2010, is a two-time USGA runner-up, in the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur and the 2014 U.S. Senior Amateur.

New Blood: Just under half of the players in the field – 73 out of 156 – are competing in their first U.S. Senior Amateur. Among them is the “youngster” of the group, Frank Vana, of Marlboro, Mass., who became age-eligible when he turned 55 five days before the championship. A nine-time winner of his state’s mid-amateur title, Vana is no stranger to USGA championships, having played in 30 of them, including 11 U.S. Amateurs.    

Old Faithfuls: More than 25 percent of the field – 40 players – competed in the 2016 championship at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, where Dave Ryan prevailed, 2 up, over Matthew Sughrue in the championship final. Among that talented group are several former champions and runners-up, many of whom reached the match-play bracket at Old Warson – 2013 Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel, 2010 and 2012 champion Paul Simson, 2014 champion Patrick Tallent, 2015 runner-up Tom Brandes, and 2008 champion George “Buddy” Marucci.

Third Time the Charm?: Among the players to watch for, one would be hard-pressed not to include a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who has reached the semifinal round of this championship in his only two starts: Tim Jackson, 58, of Germantown, Tenn. Jackson, a two-time USA Walker Cup Team member, lost to Ryan in 2016 and eventual champion Chip Lutz in 2015. Jackson – who led the U.S. Senior Open through 36 holes in 2009 – was also the medalist last year at Old Warson with a 4-under-par total of 138. 

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.