NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – The two oldest players in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship field comfortably reached the match-play bracket, but both had disappointing results in Monday’s Round of 64 that came down to lackluster efforts on the greens.
Vinny Giles, 71, of Richmond, Va., winner of the 1972 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 Senior Amateur, qualified as the No. 13 seed over the weekend, but lost a seesaw match with 2006 Senior Amateur champion Mike Bell, 1 up. All square on the par-5 18th hole, Giles found the water hazard fronting the green with his second shot and lost the hole to Bell’s conventional par.
Mike Rice, 74, of Houston, the 2005 Senior Amateur champion, earned the No. 31 seed in stroke-play qualifying, and was all square with 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randal Lewis through nine holes, but he struggled on the second nine in a 2-and-1 defeat.
Giles lamented his putting, noting several missed short putts on the incoming nine.
It was the worst putting round I can remember having, said Giles, a veteran of 11 major championships and a three-time U.S. Amateur runner-up. I would have a 15-footer and leave it 3 feet short. I was trying a new putter and a new stroke; I could never get any rhythm on the greens.
Standing in the 18th fairway all square, with Bell already having laid up short of the water hazard fronting the green, Giles decided to go for the green in two.
I had 225 yards and I decided to try and hit 3-wood onto the green, said Giles. Maybe it wasn’t smart thinking, but I just made up my mind. I figured the only way I could make a birdie was to get it on the green and two-putt.
Giles’ shot came up about 10 yards short in the pond. After a drop, he wedged his fourth shot onto the fringe and chipped up short of the hole. When Bell rolled his birdie putt close, Giles conceded the hole and the match.
The ball was sitting up fine, said Giles of his 3-wood shot, which came off a downhill lie. I just had to make sure I made good contact, and unfortunately, I came out of it a little bit. It was as bad a shot as I hit all day, but really, it was all putting. I three-putted three times on the back nine and one of them was from 10 feet.Rice also lamented his putting in his loss, which ended with a bogey on No. 17 to Lewis’ par 4.
If I can make match play at 74 years old, it’s been a success, said Rice. But neither of us played particularly well. I hit some very poor shots today and putted even worse.
Rice won his championship nine years ago by defeating Mark Bemowski, 1 up, at The Farm Golf Club in Rocky Face, Ga. His 10-year exemption for that victory, which came at age 65, runs out next year.
I’m the oldest, and I’ve been the oldest for the last seven or eight years, Rice said. I played very well yesterday, for me [a 1-under 71 in stroke play]. Today it was like I woke up in a different world with a different golf game. It’s all between the ears, I guess.
Rice birdied the 14th hole to draw within one hole of Lewis, but he drew a tough lie in the rough on No. 17, leading to the bogey.. He is looking forward to coming back in 2015, possibly for his final go-round.
I don’t think I’ll be trying to qualify [after 2015], said Rice, who qualified for his first USGA event at age 56. But I’m going to try it again next year if I’m healthy enough, because she won’t let me quit.
Rice then glanced over at his wife, Becky, who quickly asserted, He’s not going to quit.
Becky Rice taught first grade for 29 years, and many of her former students have returned to the area as adults to find themselves competing with – and often losing to – her husband at Champions Golf Club.
Said Rice, who played college football at SMU and didn’t take up golf until his 40s: It’s fun to come and compete; you just wish you could do better.
More ‘Buddy’ Time On The Course
For the past 36 years – 27 of them at the University of Florida – Stewart Buddy Alexander has spent his summers scouring the country for golf talent. The recruiting paid off in two NCAA titles (1993 and 2001) and dozens of All-Americans and future professional stars. Billy Horschel, a former Gator and a member of the 2007 USA Walker Cup Team, claimed the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup this past weekend at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
But Alexander decided to make 2014 his last season and retired in May, leaving more free time to do what he really enjoys: competing on the course. The 61-year-old from Gainesville, Fla., hadn’t even filed an entry for the U.S. Senior Amateur the past three years despite being exempt for the championship for 15 years due to his 1986 U.S. Amateur victory at Shoal Creek. A bad back, recruiting and team obligations didn’t give Alexander adequate time to prepare.
Stress-free from coaching and recruiting, this summer Alexander played in the Florida Senior Match Play, took a seven-day buddy trip to Ireland and entered the Canadian Senior Amateur in Vancouver.
I’ve had a lot of fun, said Alexander after eliminating Peter Herzog, 1 up, in the Round of 64 here. I’ve played and practiced this summer more than in recent years.
When Horschel won the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver two weeks ago, Alexander received a call the following day. Horschel wanted to know if his college coach could line up tickets for Saturday’s Alabama-Florida football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
If you can get four tickets, I’ve got the [private] plane, Alexander was told. I told him I can get the four tickets. So I’m taking my wife (Joan) and son (Tyson) with us.
As for keeping busy once the golf season concludes, Alexander says some projects are in the works. He worked for Golf Channel during the network’s telecast of the NCAA Championship at Prairie Dunes C.C. in late May and several people at the Senior Amateur congratulated him on his work.
When the weather gets cool and the grass doesn’t grow and my back gets a little ornery, I will probably be bored, said Alexander, who faces James Gallagher in the Round of 32 on Tuesday morning. But I’ll find something to do. I’m not worried about it.
More Heartbreak For Lutz
Chip Lutz picked up his ball and flipped it into the water fronting the 18th green. Moments earlier, Lutz, 59, of Reading, Pa., had watched his 3½-foot birdie putt slide by, ending a rousing comeback bid against Patrick Tallent, 61, of Vienna, Va. At one point, Lutz, a U.S. Senior Amateur semifinalist three of the past four years, was 4 down against the 2010 runner-up, only to have the rally end with a disappointing miss on the final hole.
He’s a better player than me, said a gracious Tallent after the 1-up victory. I hated to be the one to put him out. It’s sad because he is such a great player. I just came out like a house on fire.
Tallent birdied five of the first seven holes to built his 4-up lead. He then rolled in a pair of 20-footers for par on Nos. 10 and 11, the latter restoring his 4-up lead. Lutz then took 13 and 14 to trim the lead back to 2 down, and stuffed a 5-iron into the 15th hole only to miss the 8-foot birdie putt. He also missed another short birdie putt to win the par-5 16th hole.
He managed to win No. 17 with a par, setting the stage for the par-5 18th, which he reached in two shots. Tallent, who faces Mike Davis, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., in the Round of 32 on Tuesday, was on in three shots and had a 20-footer for birdie. Lutz lagged to 3½ feet and watched Tallent narrowly miss his birdie attempt.
Lutz saw a slight left-to-right break, but he pulled the putt slightly. The ball never touched the hole.
It doesn’t seem to work out for me, I don’t know why, said Lutz, a two-time winner of both the Canadian and British Senior Amateurs (2011 and 2012), as well as the low amateur at the 2012 and 2013 British Senior Opens. He made miles of putts and I couldn’t make a thing. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. I had some good looks at birdie and he is running long ones in on me.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga. David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.