U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Sughrue, Brown Lead Way With 4-Under 68s August 26, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Matthew Sughrue, of Arlington, Va., the 2016 runner-up, made seven birdies in an opening stroke-play round of 4-under 68. (USGA/Chris Keane)

After falling just short a year ago, Matthew Sughrue, of Arlington, Va., carded seven birdies in wet conditions on Saturday to start off strong in the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, posting a 4-under-par 68 on the par-72, 6,602-yard Minikahda Club in Round 1 of stroke play on Saturday.

Sughrue, the 2016 runner-up to Dave Ryan at Old Warson Country Club, in St. Louis, Mo., will head into Sunday tied for the lead with David Brown, of Ligonier, Pa. They were the only players to break 70 on Saturday, and just six other players in the 156-man field posted scores under par on a demanding Minikahda layout where rain was part of the equation for much of the day.

The U.S. Senior Amateur is one of 13 annual national championships conducted by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The championship is open to amateurs at least 55 years of age with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 7.4. It consists of two rounds of stroke play, after which the field is cut to the low 64 scorers for match play, starting on Monday.

The 57-year-old Sughrue immediately experienced good vibes on Saturday, hitting an approach on his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th, to 2 feet for an easy birdie. He followed up a par on No. 11 with another birdie on No. 12, foreshadowing how the rest of his round would unfold. Sughrue only had one run of back-to-back birdies, on Nos. 18 and 1, but only once went five straight holes without one. His only major hiccup came on the par-4 14th hole, his fifth, where he made double-bogey 6.

“I only had one bad hole; after that, I kind of settled down,” said Sughrue. “I just tried to take care of myself. It’s the medal-play portion of the tournament. And once that’s over, it doesn’t matter, other than making the cut. And then it’s a different mindset after that.”

Sughrue, who made it to the final hole of last year’s championship match, is hoping for a repeat of last year’s run, but know there’s a long way to go, and a lot of scenarios to navigate.

“It’s a different year. I’m just trying to approach it one round at a time, one day at a time here. What happened last year doesn’t really have much impact on me,” he said. “You’ve got to play well, and you’ve got to be a little lucky to get through all those matches and get to the final.”

Brown also started on No. 10, and was even par through six holes before jump-starting his round with three straight birdies. Birdies on Nos. 3 and 4 moved him to 5 under, before a bogey on No. 6 put him back to 4 under, where he ended his round. The 56-year-old is one of 74 players making their U.S. Senior Amateur debuts this week.

 

Tim Jackson has been ousted in the semifinals of this championship the past two years, both times by the eventual champion. (USGA/Chris Keane)

 

Early risers were a familiar sight on the leader board. Of the eight players to break par, seven teed off in the morning wave, with 1998 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Chip Holcombe (71) the only exception. Among those with early times to put themselves into strong position heading into Round 2 was Tim Jackson, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who has reached the semifinals in this championship each of the last two years.

Jackson, of Germantown, Tenn., was 2 over through five holes, but was able to withstand his bumpy start, shooting 3-under 33 on the front nine, his second nine of the day, which included holing a pitch for eagle on the par-5 seventh hole. It was the only eagle recorded by the field in Round 1, and it propelled him to a 2-under 70.

“I think it was just settling a little bit and just finding a little rhythm. It was early, it was rainy and cold,” said Jackson, 58, who was the medalist at Old Warson in 2016. “It’s getting a feel for the course and how it’s going to play the rest of the week. There are some awkward shots out here, you’ve got some elevation, some up and down, some blind shots, so I think during stroke play you’re just trying to figure out the best way to play the course. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a great career. I’ve done just about everything that I’ve set out to do, and [a U.S. Senior Amateur title] would be a nice cherry on top. That’s kind of how I’m viewing it.”

2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz shot even-par 72. Among those at 1-over 73 were Ryan and two-time champion Paul Simson. Simson, of Raleigh, N.C., was in position to be the ninth player to post a score under par, but he made back-to-back bogeys to close his round, including on his last hole, when he had to chip out from under a tree and missed a 5-foot putt to save par.

““I made a couple of mistakes at the end there. I played pretty solid, I’m still in good shape to make match play,” said Simson, who won the championship in 2010 and 2012. He lost to Ryan in the Round of 16 last year. “[During stroke play] I try not to create problems for myself. If you drive the ball in the fairway and hit a lot of greens and keep the ball below the hole you’re usually in pretty good shape, and that’s what I was trying to do today.”

2013 champion Doug Hanzel shot 2-over 74 on Saturday, as did George “Buddy” Marucci Jr., the 2008 champion.

Jeff Teal, of Excelsior, Minn., had the low round of the five competitors from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, posting a 4-over 76.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

 

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