U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Five Things to Watch for on Tuesday August 29, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Dave Shedloski

Gene Elliott, of West Des Moines, Iowa, is among the championship newcomers who are making impressive debuts this week at Minikahda. (USGA/Chris Keane) 

The sun made a late appearance Monday in the 63rd U.S. Senior Open at The Minikahda Club, but 32 men also had bright shiny faces after winning their first-round matches.

Things only get more challenging from here, especially with two rounds on tap Tuesday. Here are five things to look for in the Rounds of 32 and 16 that will take us to Wednesday morning’s quarterfinals:

Previous prowess: Six players are still alive and have either won this championship or finished runner-up, including 2016 champion Dave Ryan, who beat Matthew Sughrue in last year’s final at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis. Other past winners with victories in the first round were Paul Simson, 2010 and ’12), Doug Hanzel (2013) and Chip Lutz (2015). Bryan Norton was runner-up in 2014 to Patrick Tallent.

Newcomers: Sixteen of the 32 players who advanced to the second round are making their debut in the U.S. Senior Amateur, including David Brown of Ligonier, Pa., the stroke-play medalist, who beat Scott Smith of Houston, 3 and 2. Others of note include Gene Elliott, who eliminated Tallent; Ned Zachar, who knocked out past USA Walker Cup player and U.S. Mid-Amateur champion George Zahringer; Frank Vana, who is competing in his 31st USGA championship; and Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa., who has played in more than 40 USGA events and is Brown’s roommate this week.

Local hopeful: Scott Thomas is a resident of Chesterfield, Mo., but the 59-year-old’s roots are firmly planted in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In fact, Thomas, who takes on Knapp in the Round of 32 on Tuesday morning, grew up in Hopkins, just 20 minutes from Minikahda. A graduate of St. Cloud State, located a little over an hour from Minneapolis, Thomas is competing in his 11th USGA championship. His 1-up victory over Buzz Fly on Monday marked the first time he has won a match in a USGA event.

Endurance: To reach the 18-hole final on Thursday, a player has to win four matches over the next two days, so he had better be in shape, especially on the challenging Minikahda layout which features some stubborn rough and healthy elevation changes. Another factor will be the sun, which hasn’t shone but for a few hours on Monday. It’s going to warm up, good for muscles, but bad for staying fresh.

Wedge game: At 6,764 yards, Minikahda Club isn’t exacting tee to green. There are a number of shorter par 4s, and the par 5s aren’t necessarily reachable in two shots. “Longer hitters like myself, we don’t have as much of an advantage,” Hanzel said, not bemoaning the circumstances but pointing out the facts. “A player with a good wedge game is going to be very tough to beat.” That’s true at most championships, but particularly so this week.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

 

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