BEHIND THE SCENES
That Championship Season: Savoring '15, Preparing for '16 April 21, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel, USGA

Chip Lutz said his mother, Karen, inspired his run to the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur championship. (USGA/Chris Keane)

The win was a long time coming. The champion overcame bouts of self-doubt, a year of well-intentioned “support” from friends and family and all the pressure that a year of preparations – and three years of close calls – provides. He even got to win in front of his mother for the first time.

After the year that 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz had, nobody should begrudge him a little extra time to savor the good times.

“It was phenomenal to have my mom, Janet, there for the win,” Lutz said. “She has been such a part of my golf career and one of my biggest supporters, but she was always in the background. She was uncertain about coming, even at the last moment. So I called my brother and said, ‘C’mon, see if you can get mom to let you bring her down.’ I thought this might be the one. She was my inspiration for the day, I couldn’t let her down.”

Lutz, 61, of Reading, Pa., didn’t let anybody down and devoted his offseason to savoring the victory.

“I just enjoyed the experience,” Lutz said. “My feet are just now starting to touch the ground. I took more time off than I normally do. But now I am anxious to get started. I got new clubs and want to find my game and I am looking forward to the opportunities I will get to play in other championships, so I want to commit to the energy and focus it will take to play my best this year. I got to my top of the mountain, but my wife, Bonnie, is so supportive and I just want to see if I can get back there again.”

After three years of losing in the semifinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur, the two-time winner of both The Seniors Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A, and the Canadian Senior Men’s Championship was starting to worry that the win he most coveted wasn’t in the cards.

“I have always wanted to lift a USGA championship trophy and the Senior Amateur felt like my glass ceiling,” he said. “I just couldn’t break through. It felt spectacular to win. It was worth the wait. It completes for me what had been the missing link in my golf career.”

It can take a long time for winter to run its course in Reading, but time flew for Lutz when the members at his home club, LedgeRock Golf Club, threw him a party to honor his accomplishment.

“One thing led to another and the winter just flew by,” Lutz said. “I have the trophy at LedgeRock. I also built a trophy case in our home for replicas of the trophies from the U.S., British and Canadian senior amateurs. “I am not much for all this hardware, but these trophies are pretty special to me.”

He earned a 10-year exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur, plus exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Mid-Amateurs, and an exemption into the 2016 U.S. Senior Open. He is also exempt from local qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Unfortunately, adding more golf opportunities to an already crowded golf calendar clashes with real life – and Lutz is OK with that.

“We went on a Viking River Cruise last year that was interrupted by a terrible storm and a strike by the loch workers. So we got an opportunity to do it again this year. I have no regrets. Bonnie has supported my addiction to golf for years,” he said. “When I was younger, I pushed golf off my schedule for our kids and for business. We have spent so much time and energy away from home. I am not so consumed by golf that I can be happy doing other things and family is so important to us that we will find new ways to enjoy our life. This is her time now.”

Well, sort of. Lutz is still preparing for a busy playing schedule.

“I am going to change my schedule a bit, play some events in different parts of the country and enjoy the opportunity,” Lutz said. “I still want to win everything I can get my hands on, but I will be more selective in my championship schedule. I had a lot of people last year reminding me, ‘Hey pal, you gotta get this [winning the U.S. Senior Amateur] done.’ I appreciated their support, but it did put some pressure on me.

“I have always been quietly confident, even when I wasn’t winning. All my experiences have shaped my perspective immeasurably, good and bad. I am such a competitor, but when I couldn’t close the deal in the Senior Amateur, I started to worry that my game wouldn’t measure up and I began to doubt myself. But now that I have gotten over my biggest hurdle, I am going to take it all in. I have a sense of calm now. Don’t get me wrong, I am burning to win it all again, but now I know I can do it and just have to follow through.”

Lutz is among a cross-section of winners from the 2015 USGA championships to share some of the special moments they experienced with Members:

Eun Jeong Seong says she is focusing on her mental approach to golf in preparation for competing in 2016. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

EUN JEONG SEONG, U.S. Girls’ Junior champion

Eun Jeong Seong, 16, of the Republic of Korea, captured a 3-and-2 victory over Angel Yin, of Arcadia, Calif., in the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club. She said she got quite a shock during the trophy ceremony.

“It was an honor for me to get the trophy with my name engraved, but I was surprised that it was quite heavy!”

Seong said she was moved by the support she has received.

“I didn't expect such a great celebration from so many people,” she said. “But the thing is that I believed I could do it and I am so glad I managed it. I do have a plan to defend my title and I am going to focus on my mental attitude rather than technical practice. I believe this mind-controlling practice will make me mature and bring me pleasure [as I try to defend my championship].

Seong says she keeps the trophy in plain sight.

“I put it in my living room so that I can see it every day,” she said. “These days, I don't feel that I am doing great. Fortunately, looking at the trophy comforts me and cheers me up. It is a blessing.”

 

 

Philip Barbaree says his U.S. Junior Amateur victory prompted him to work harder in preparation for playing at LSU. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

PHILIP BARBAREE, 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur champion

Life is good for Philip Barbaree. He is about to graduate from C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport, La., and begin playing his collegiate golf at Louisiana State University. Still, the 17-year-old is disappointed that his next birthday will disqualify him from defending his title as reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion.

“I will be about a month too old, which is a bummer,” Barbaree said. “Last year's tournament was some of the most fun I have ever had on the golf course.”

Barbaree said it took him awhile to absorb the full impact of his 37-hole victory, which tied a championship record for largest comeback.

“I am surprised by how many people watched the championship on TV, especially when I was down five with eight to play,” he said. “I probably would have turned it off! But as I lifted the trophy, I was thinking that I was going to be on a long list of historic past champions. To win the same tournament as Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth is something I will never forget.

“Winning the U.S. Junior Amateur was an affirmation of how well I had been playing all summer. I had a good feeling coming into the tournament. I think my positive attitude carried me through the grind of all those holes. It showed me that I could compete with the best juniors in the world and it motivates me to get to the next level of golf.” 

Lauren Lightfritz (holding trophy) says she learned secrets to competing from (left to right) Margaret Shirley, Belinda Marsh and Emilie Meason. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

LAUREN LIGHTFRITZ, 2015 USGA Women’s State Team champion

Lauren Lightfritz is used to being a good teammate on winning teams. The Mercer University freshman played on three straight Georgia state championship golf teams at Lambert High School before she qualified to compete on the Georgia squad that won the 2015 USGA Women’s State Team Championship.

She said winning the championship satisfied her Peach State pride, but inspired her to compete on the national stage again.

“I was honored to represent Georgia, and winning a national championship has always been a goal of mine,” she said, “but for it to happen at 17 years old was an amazing accomplishment. To play with Margaret Shirley and Emilie Meason, and to have Belinda Marsh as a team captain was truly an honor.

“As I lifted the trophy, all I thought about was thanking everyone who helped me get to that point, especially my dad, who caddied for me,” she said. “But after the championship, all I felt was excitement and motivation. …  In the car ride home, I remember starting a new list of goals in my head. It made me have this inner drive to be able to play and win as many national championships as I can.”

 

Margaret Shirley says the thrill of winning inspires her to compete in USGA championships. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

MARGARET SHIRLEY, 2015 USGA Women’s State Team champion

Margaret Shirley has enjoyed individual success in USGA championships – she won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship and finished runner-up in 2013 and 2015, becoming only the 12th player to play in the same USGA championship’s match-play final three straight years – but relished the team aspect of her most recent USGA championship title: the 2015 USGA Women’s State Team Championship.

“Golf is such an individual sport,” she said. “You don’t always get to share a victory and celebrate like that! And to get to win a title for your state is a huge honor. But whenever you hear yourself called a national champion – that always surprises me! It gives me satisfaction, but also makes me want to get back to the winner’s circle.

Shirley said she felt more pressure leading up to the 2014 Women’s Mid-Amateur after losing in the finals in 2013 than she did as defending champion in 2015 and was thrilled with the team win.

“It brought back a lot of fun memories of college golf for me (Shirley played for Auburn University from 2004-08). My preparation was the same. You still have to play your game and you can’t control anything your teammates are doing, but it was nice to talk about strategy on holes during the practice rounds and such.”

As the 2016 USGA championship season begins, the next group of competitors is hoping to create their own memories.

David Chmiel is manager of Members content for the USGA. Contact him at dchmiel@usga.org.