On the eve of the biggest competition of his career, amateur Doug Snoap said that he was both excited and frightened about his debut in the U.S. Senior Open.
Much of that emotional tug-of-war was due to the fact that the lifelong amateur had drawn a pairing in the opening two rounds with popular Champions Tour players Fred Couples and Hall of Famer Tom Watson.
Snoap, 53, of Apopka, Fla., who has competed in four U.S. Mid-Amateurs and the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links, replaced Nick Price in the championship after Price withdrew due to family issues. Snoap had shot 71 at the sectional qualifier in Dunedin, Fla., to earn the first-alternate position.
"You talk about the ultimate good news-bad news scenario," Snoap mused Wednesday, lingering behind the clubhouse at Indianwood Golf & Country Club after his final practice round.
"No, obviously, it’s a real thrill," he added. Then he laughed. "I just hope I remember how to hit a golf ball."
Wouldn’t you know it, Snoap’s opening round on Indianwood’s Old Course Thursday morning turned out to be, well, a good news-bad news scenario. But that’s how golf often turns out anyway.
Thanks to a pair of birdies, including a 5-footer on the 18th hole following a solid 7-iron approach, Snoap shot 35 for his first nine holes. He trailed Watson by just one shot and led Couples by one stroke. Other highlights included a par save at the 12th after he nearly drove into the hazard, and a wedge to 1 foot that set up a birdie at the par-5 15th.
When the putt dropped at 18, Snoap received a loud cheer from a gallery that was pulling for the Michigan native. Snoap grew up in Grand Rapids and is a huge Detroit Lions fan. The large crowd following the grouping included his mother and a number of friends.
"The front nine was fun. I hit some good shots. Making that birdie on 18 was probably the highlight," Snoap said. "You know, I felt like I belonged. Then the back nine I felt like maybe I didn’t belong."
Indeed, the proverbial wheels came off his game on his second nine. Snoap, silver-haired and trim, bogeyed the par-5 first hole, then pushed a shot out of bounds on No. 2 that led to a double bogey. A triple bogey, five bogeys and a lone par added up to an inward 46 and 81 total.
"The out-of-bounds shot on two got in my head," said Snoap, who works as a computer programmer for Hilton Corp. "I didn’t play well the rest of the round. It was a bad shot, and then everything went bad from there. I hope I didn’t get in their way or disturb their games coming in. I was trying to behave and not show my anger. I was very disappointed by what I did on those last nine holes."
Couples, who shot 72, was sympathetic to Snoap’s tribulations.
"When you start going that way and you're not used to doing this, it doesn't take much to start bogeying holes," Couples said. "But he played very, very well on the front nine. He was solid, and the back nine is not the way, I'm sure, he wanted to finish. But tomorrow, he'll come out, and I'm sure he'll have a good round. He's a good player."
In the moments leading up to the start of the round, Snoap, dressed in an orange shirt that was nearly identical to those worn by the volunteers, looked uneasy on the teeing ground. Then Watson broke the ice by moving a step toward Snoap and extending his hand, saying, "Hi. I’m Tom Watson."
"Believe me, I know who you are," Snoap replied with a wide smile.
Later, after he signed his scorecard, Snoap was still in awe of both his playing partners.
"They’re such great guys," he said. "It was awesome playing with both of them, and it was really awesome playing the front nine in even par. But it was really disappointing how I played the rest of the round. It just really unraveled for me.
"It was excellent," he added about the experience. "I’m going to enjoy it again tomorrow no matter what I shoot. I’m here and they can’t kick me out until I’m done."
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.