U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Despite Ouster, Thomas Proves You Can Go Home Again August 29, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Dave Shedloski

Scott Thomas (right), a native of Roseville, Minn., earned his first USGA match-play win on Monday before being ousted by Sean Knapp on Tuesday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Having come up 10 strokes short of qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur last year, Scott Thomas wasn’t confident about his chances of making the field for this year’s championship at The Minikahda Club. But he was supremely motivated.

Thomas was born in Hopkins, Minn., and grew up in Roseville, about 30 miles from Minikahda. Though he has lived in St. Louis most of his adult life, Thomas successfully qualified previously for the 1992 U.S. Public Links Championship and the 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur in his hometown area, the former at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park, the latter at Hazeltine National. He also competed in the 1981 Trans-Mississippi at Minikahda.

“I was definitely excited to try to get back up here,” said Thomas, 59, who, at behest of a friend, entered the qualifier at Greenbriar Hills Country Club. “I don’t play and practice that much, not as much as a lot of these guys. But it was a thrill to have a hot day where some tee shots went straight and some chip shots went right, and lo and behold I shot 73 and then won a playoff. I don’t know. It must have been some inspiration from knowing I could come back here again.”

The visit home ended early, however, when he ran into a buzzsaw named Sean Knapp from Oakmont, Pa., who took advantage of a few Thomas errors and added some brilliant strokes of his own in a 6-and-5 decision in the Round of 32.

Despite the setback, Thomas, an assistant golf coach at Maryville University, was upbeat. Though he had advanced to match play six times in 10 previous USGA championships, he never before had won a match. That changed on Monday when he swatted Buzz Fly from the championship, 1 up, in the first round.

“Sorry I wasn’t better today, but Sean played some super golf, and I didn’t make a birdie, and you have to make some along the way to stay in the match,” Thomas said. “But I had a great time here. It felt good to not go home after one match. This place is so wonderful, and the more I play it, the more I understand how great it is, all the nuances of the place. And the volunteers all week were so nice. It reminds of why I love it here.”

A graduate of St. Cloud State, where he was a member of the golf team, Thomas grew up playing at Midland Hills Golf Course, a public layout in Roseville. After moving to Missouri, he entered numerous state events, and he is believed to be the only player to win the state amateur, mid-amateur and senior amateur.

He had not played much golf in recent years as his son, Frankie, made the rounds in junior golf. “And that was OK. I loved that,” Thomas said. “You have to travel a bit, get in those AJGA events and get to know coaches. It was fun to concentrate on what he was doing.”

The younger Thomas now plays golf for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He’ll want to know how dad’s round went on Tuesday.

“Yeah, he’s going to wonder how I was done so early in the day,” Thomas said. “I’ll have to explain it to him. Match play can be like this. But whether you get beat in a close match or one that isn’t so close, just being able to get this far is pretty special. It was terrific. And just to be back in a USGA championship – when a lot of guys try and try and never get that chance – I couldn’t be happier.”

Well, a deeper run would have made him happier.

“My wife [Leiah] said she would come up for the final,” Thomas said with a laugh. “She would do that a lot in the state events. Obviously, that was ambitious. This is a different level. And it was great to be a part of it. It was fun. It’s supposed to be.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

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