U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
A Rare Tallent: Defending Champ Holds Two Prestigious Titles
September 26, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Pat Tallent had knocked on the door at USGA championships nearly 30 times before coming away with his first victory, in last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, Calif.
“It’s not like I couldn’t play – I just had a hard time finishing,” said Tallent, 62, who begins the defense of his title at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Hidden Creek Golf Club. “There’s a lot of things you can do wrong when you’re trying to win a golf tournament. In years past, I figured out ways to lose, and last year, I figured out a way to win.”
Tallent put the knowledge to good use, returning to the Seniors Amateur Championship, conducted by the R&A, in early August at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland and emerging as the winner for the first time, after five consecutive top-eight finishes between 2010 and 2014.
“I do think that winning [the U.S. Senior Amateur] last year made it easier to finish over there,” said Tallent, a native of Martin, Ky., who now lives in Vienna, Va. “Once you’ve already won one, you don’t put so much pressure on yourself. It’s a very small difference, but it’s there.”
Tallent, an academic All-America basketball player at George Washington University in the mid-1970s who was drafted by the NBA’s Washington Bullets, is quick to point out that a little bit of luck also helps to tip the scales when you’re trying to close out a senior amateur “major.”
“Royal County Down was really suited to my game,” said Tallent. “It has a lot of left-to-right holes and I like to cut the ball. But I also got the benefit of the draw with the weather.”
Tallent pointed to a scintillating putter as the key factor in his victory at Big Canyon. He started slowly during stroke play and edged his way into the match-play draw by surviving a 15-for-13 playoff as the No. 60 seed. But he started fast in match play, birdieing five of his first seven holes on the way to taking out No. 5 seed and good friend Chip Lutz, 1 up, and never looked back.
“I like to think I’m close to being as good as players like Chip and [USGA champions] Paul Simson and George Zahringer, but you need a little luck in order to win,” said Tallent. “You need to have lucky things happen to you, and I made so many putts against Chip and against Bryan [Norton, his opponent in the final match]. Good things happened.”
Tallent has struggled recently with his right knee, the result of arthritis and a cartilage issue from a long-ago basketball injury, but doesn’t expect it to affect him at Hidden Creek.
“My knee’s been bad for a long time,” he said. “I had it drained and had a cortisone shot on Monday, and it feels much better. It’s not nearly as swollen as it was, and I think I’ll be fine to play.”
Tallent predicted that an outstanding lag putter will have a big advantage at Hidden Creek, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design that opened in 2002.
“The fairways are pretty wide, and the greens are huge,” said Tallent, a longtime member of Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md. “There should be a lot of guys hitting it in the fairways and hitting it on the greens, and we’re going to see who the best putter is. There will be a lot of second putts from 8 to 10 feet, because it’s going to be hard to get it close on your first putt.”
Tallent also cited an observation he overheard on the practice range this week.
“I think when you play this course for the first time, you think it’s easy,” said Tallent. “But when you start getting under pressure, those bunkers will start coming into play, and you’ll find it’s not as easy as you thought. You need to work your ball the correct way to take advantage of what Coore and Crenshaw have given you. I’m a big fan of the course.”
Tallent hopes to get several more opportunities to play it over the next six days.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.