U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Special Week for Ryan Culminates in Title
September 22, 2016 | St. Louis, Mo.
By Joey Flyntz, USGA
Dave Ryan rode a red-hot putting stroke to grab an early lead, then held off a late charge by Matthew Sughrue to win the 62nd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, 2 up, at Old Warson Country Club, which played to a par of 71 and measured 6,956 yards for the 18-hole championship match.
Ryan, 62, of Taylorville, Ill., only 90 minutes away from Old Warson, had a week for the ages. After winning the Illinois Senior Amateur by nine strokes last week, Ryan defeated two-time Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson in the Round of 16 and two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and this year’s Senior Amateur medalist, Tim Jackson, in the semifinals.
In his 20-hole victory over Simson on Tuesday, Ryan made history by recording only the third known hole-in-one on a par-4 hole in a USGA championship, acing the 270-yard 14th hole. It was the 13th known double eagle in USGA championship history. Now, he’s a national champion, winning at the club where he qualified for his first USGA championship – the 1986 U.S. Amateur – 30 years ago.
“I'm still in shock, a state of shock,” said Ryan. “For a guy from Taylorville, Illinois, to win a national championship, it's unbelievable.”
Sughrue, 57, of Arlington, Va., won the opening hole, but Ryan put on a putting exhibition to win the next five holes, making a 12-footer for birdie on No. 2, a two-putt par to Sughrue’s bogey on No. 3, a 7-footer for birdie on No. 4, a 20-footer for birdie on No. 5 and a 15-foot birdie on the par-5 sixth.
With Sughrue in good position to win holes 8 and 9, Ryan’s short game again bailed him out, as he earned halves with up-and-downs to keep a 4-up lead at the turn.
Ryan, who grew up playing on a nine-hole course in Taylorville, chalked up his putting wizardry to some film study.
“My son gave me a video to watch from Dave Stockton, who is a great putter,” said Ryan. “I took some of his tips and it's like shooting free throws, you just get over it, see the line, and let it go. And it worked this week. And it worked last week when I played in the state Senior Amateur in Illinois.”
Sughrue, in what would foreshadow much of the rest of the round, had a chance to win No. 10, but his birdie putt burned the edge and he had to settle for a half. With very little going his way, Sughrue kept his composure and began a furious rally on the 11th hole, which he won with a par.
On the par-5 12th, Sughrue won with a conceded birdie after he nearly holed a flop shot from the rough. Sughrue then drained a 10-footer for a winning birdie on the par-3 13th to trim the deficit to 1 down. He missed a 3-footer that would have squared the match on No. 14, but finally drew even with a winning par on No. 15.
With the players facing nearly identical approach shots on the 621-yard, par-5 16th hole, Sughrue’s momentum faded when he missed the green left, and his ball rolled down a ridge. Sughrue had a chance to earn a half, but his 15-footer lipped out. Ryan went back to 1 up with a comfortable two-putt par, then maintained the advantage when Sughrue lipped out yet again on No. 17, one of six Sughrue putts that lipped out or burned the edge during the round.
After Ryan crushed his drive on 18 down the middle, Sughrue hit his tee shot in the left rough, giving him little chance to win the hole, which Ryan eventually won with a conceded par.
“It's disappointing. I felt like I had enough game to come back and win and it just didn't fall my way,” said Sughrue. “He's a great player and he put on a great exhibition today. But, I'll take solace in knowing that I probably shook him up a little bit with some of the shots that I had and made it a match. I'll take that as a good indication of where my game is in senior amateur golf.”
After grabbing the 4-up lead, Ryan admitted he lost some of his early aggression. When Sughrue squared the match on 15, he was able to shift gears.
“I was trying to hang on and that's when you get in trouble,” Ryan said. “You start getting the old steering wheel out and start steering it instead of letting it go. Once I missed that par putt on 15, it changed my mindset. I got more aggressive after that and I got back in battle mode. And he hit a bad shot and that's probably what cost him the match on 16.”
Despite some bad breaks early, Sughrue, a psychotherapist who helps athletes perform at their best, had a game plan, stuck to it and it almost panned out.
“I felt like I had enough game today to come back,” said Sughrue. “I figured if I could go a few under par I might just win the thing. So, I kind of looked at it as a stroke-play thing, once I got 4 down I'm like, he can make all the putts he wants, but if I shoot 4 under coming in, I'm probably going to win this thing.”
Sughrue is exempt into the next three U.S. Senior Amateurs, as well as next year’s U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur championships. Ryan receives a 10-year U.S. Senior Amateur exemption, two-year exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur, and one-year exemptions into the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
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.
The 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur will be contested Aug. 26-31 at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.