NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Fifteen Californians qualified for this week’s U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, but after match play concluded on Tuesday at Big Canyon Country Club, only Michael Turner remains among the quarterfinalists.
Ten months ago, that might not have seemed possible. Not that the 57-year-old from Sherman Oaks didn’t have the talent. This, after all, is his 11th USGA championship and fifth since turning 50. But in November, Turner underwent knee-replacement surgery and it wasn’t until May that he could begin hitting balls again.
At last year’s Senior Amateur at Wade Hampton Golf Club, the pain in his left knee became so unbearable that it affected his play. Thanks to lots of Advil, Turner managed to reach the Round of 16 before losing to eventual runner-up Pat O’Donnell.
It’s pain-free [now], said Turner after he defeated fourth-seeded Tom Brandes, of Bellevue, Wash., 2 and 1, in the Round of 16 in Tuesday’s searing heat. It’s really nice to be playing golf pain-free. There were some complications [from the surgery], but I turned the corner in May and June, and [my knee] started getting stronger.
Speaking of strength, Turner has always been one of the top mid-amateur/senior golfers in Southern California. In 1987, he won the first of four Los Angeles City Championships, the last coming two years ago shortly after he regained his amateur status. When Turner turned 50, he sought to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing the Champions Tour. Turner said his game didn’t transfer to the professional ranks when he graduated from Division II Cal State University, Northridge in 1981, but at 50, he felt he could give senior circuit a try.
He finished among the top 30 in Q-School twice, giving him the opportunity to attempt to qualify on Mondays for the nine available spots each week. Turner wound up earning a total of eight Champions Tour starts.
It was just a dream, said Turner, who qualified for two U.S. Senior Opens as a professional, in 2007 and 2009. I think everybody’s dream is to try and play on the [PGA or Champions] Tour. I remember my first tournament was in Iowa. I remember walking the fairways thinking, ‘I am playing on the Champions Tour.’ I couldn’t believe. I had a lot of great experiences, but it’s a very difficult tour to get on.
Even though Turner wasn’t a regular at tour events, the players treated him well. Denis Watson showed him how to hit a downhill bunker shot, and Turner also gleaned tips from other veterans.
The difference between the really good amateurs and the so-so professionals is that they get up and down from everywhere, said Turner. Good amateur get up and down most of the time, but not like they do. They learn shots.
By the time he turned 55, however, Turner’s taste for professional golf had dried up, plus it was next to impossible to get into fields. When he became age-eligible for senior amateur competitions in 2012, he applied to regain his status. Turner qualified for another U.S. Senior Open that year, missing the cut at Indianwood Golf & Country Club. Being home regularly allowed him to also devote more time to the pillow business he and son, Sean, started in 2003. L.A. Pillow manufactures polyester-fiber pillows for the furniture trade.
Sean’s involvement allows Turner to play more golf events such as this week’s Senior Amateur. Sean came out for the Round of 16 after spending the morning in the office. Turner’s 83-year-old father, Paul, also walked both matches, as did wife Lorrie. There’s been moral support back at Woodland Hills Country Club in the San Fernando Valley, where Turner has been a member since 1988.
It’s been a good two-week run for WHCC members as Corby Segal came within a 3½-foot putt of advancing to the quarterfinals at last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Saucon Valley Country Club.
Turner said experience, patience and family support have played a key role in his performance this week. While it’s not a true home game, he is accustomed to the bermudagrass this championship is being conducted on this week.
I played this course 15 or 20 years ago and I’m getting to learn it as this week goes on, said Turner, who gave plenty of credit to Big Canyon caddie Jake Allanach, who has worked at the club since 1999. He’s been a big help.
Against Brandes, Turner fell 1 down after 11 holes, but won Nos. 14-16 – the first and last with birdies – to gain control of the match. The first thing he told his family after closing it out on the 17th hole was that he was exempt from qualifying for next year’s championship.
Turner, who faces 2010 U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up Patrick Tallent in the quarterfinals, wants to accomplish more than that. He’s three wins away from the title and becoming the first left-handed winner of the Senior Amateur.
If that happens, he will want to be careful about getting weak in the knees from all the excitement.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.