U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Retired Firefighter Finds Wright Stuff to Reach Round of 64 August 27, 2018 | Eugene, Ore. By David Shefter, USGA

Retired firefighter Kirk Wright fanned a few flames late on Sunday to sneak into the match-play draw in his first U.S. Senior Amateur. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

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Just a handful of holes remained in Kirk Wright’s second and final round of stroke play in the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Eugene Country Club on Sunday, and the sense of urgency for the 57-year-old from Oklahoma City, Okla., was palpable.

Wright, a retired battalion chief who spent 30 years with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, understands what it feels like to be in the heat of the moment. This may not have been a life-or-death rescue attempt, but survival in this USGA championship for the 55-and-over set was entering a critical stage.

“One of the guys scanned [the online scoring] with three holes left to play … and it looked like I was on the bubble at that point,” said Wright. “I had just bogeyed 15 [to go below the projected cut of 8 over par]. I knew I had to make at least one birdie or two.”

He avoided disaster on the par-5 16th hole with an up-and-down par save, but on the 338-yard 17th hole, Wright made a 10-footer for birdie. A two-putt par on 18 from 15 feet put Wright into a 14-for-13 playoff for the final match-play spots.

Wright wasn’t totally safe from the proverbial fire. But a bogey-5 on the par-4 10th – the first playoff hole – was good enough to get him into the draw, where he earned the No. 64 seed and a 7:50 a.m. PDT starting time with co-medalist and No. 1 seed Greg Condon.

“I came out here with the attitude that I’ve already won just getting here,” said Wright, who made the Senior Amateur field in his third qualifying attempt. “I said if I could make it to match play, it would exceed my expectations for the week.”

In the past year, firefighters have made some big news in USGA championships. Well, one in particular: Matt Parziale, of Brockton, Mass., who claimed the U.S. Mid-Amateur title last fall, earning spots in the Masters and the U.S. Open, where he shared low-amateur honors in June at Shinnecock Hills.

Wright followed the U.S. Mid-Amateur a bit, and was happy to see a fellow firefighter reach the pinnacle in a USGA championship. But long before that, Wright took a keen interest in the game. He just didn’t enjoy much success in it until turning 50, when he became eligible for Oklahoma Golf Association senior competitions. In the past six years, he’s won the Oklahoma Senior Amateur title three times and finished second twice.

Before that, he quit competitive golf for 10 years because he couldn’t compete against the “kids” at the mid-amateur (25 and older) level. So he focused on his career as a firefighter. After working construction and other jobs after high school, Wright took a friend’s advice and joined the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

“It was the biggest blessing of my life,” he said. “It was so much fun. For 30 years, I had a job where I wanted to go to work every day.”

That included being put in harm’s way on numerous occasions. He once had to dive head-first out of a second-story window to avoid fumes. Wright described it as a ladder bail.

In 1995, he was on duty when an explosion took place at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At first, those in his company thought it was a car crashing into the fire station.

“Our station was probably 5 or 6 miles away, but we felt the building just rattle,” said Wright. “Then we started hearing radio traffic and we immediately knew what was going on.”

One-hundred and sixty-eight people perished that day and many more were wounded. As a first responder, Wright saw the horrors of this terrorist attack perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. It was the biggest event of Wright’s 30-year career. But, it was just another call to duty.

Wright eventually was promoted to battalion chief and for 12 years he oversaw 45 people and six stations. He even earned an online degree from Oklahoma State University in fire service engineering. As a person responsible for lives, Wright took on the challenge of making challenging decisions.

“My job was to make sure nobody got hurt,” he said. “I wanted to make sure everyone went home the next day.”

It wasn’t exactly the same kind of pressure he felt on Sunday, where three bogeys over his first six holes had Wright in a difficult spot. This pressure was self-induced because he wanted to do well in his first USGA appearance.

Just qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur was a lifetime achievement. He pointed to his competitor’s badge as if it were a precious metal. Now he has a priceless Monday starting time.

“In match play, you never know,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a good [format] for me because I’ll throw in a double [bogey] here and there. That’s tough in stroke play. But in match play, you say pick it up and go to the next hole.

“Golf is a silly game. You never know how it’s going to turn out.”

Kind of like when the fire alarm goes off.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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