U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Defending Champ Knapp to Face Wilson in Senior Amateur Final
August 28, 2018 | Eugene, Ore.
By David Shefter, USGA
Defending champion Sean Knapp and co-medalist Jeff Wilson will square off in Thursday’s 18-hole championship match of the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship after each won a pair of matches Wednesday at Eugene Country Club.
Wilson, 55, of Fairfield, Calif., seeking to become the first medalist to win the Senior Amateur title in 31 years, rolled past Ned Zachar, 56, of Bedford, N.Y., 6 and 4, in the quarterfinals and then rallied from an early two-hole deficit in eliminating 2015 champion Chip Lutz, 63, of Reading, Pa., 2 and 1.
Knapp, 56, of Oakmont, Pa., who is vying to become the first repeat champion since William C. Campbell in 1979-1980 after taking the title a year ago in his first year of eligibility, improved his U.S. Senior Amateur match-play record to 11-0 with a 4-and-3 quarterfinal victory over 2013 Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel, 61, of Savannah, Ga., and a 2-and-1 semifinal decision over 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Michael McCoy, 55, of Des Moines, Iowa.
Like Knapp a year ago, who won his first national championship in his 41st USGA start, Wilson has been chasing USGA titles since he first played in the U.S. Junior Amateur in the late 1970s. This was the sixth time he’s been a USGA medalist, and the car dealer is one of two competitors to have been low amateur in the U.S. Open (2000) and the U.S. Senior Open (2018). He’s advanced to a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateur semifinals (2001 and 2002) and three U.S. Mid-Amateur quarterfinals (2000, 2004 and 2008), but this will be his first appearance in a final.
“[It] feels really good,” said Wilson, who estimates he’s competed in “33 or 34” USGA championships, including four U.S. Opens. “I played great today, and Chip showed why he’s a USGA champion. He was a tough out.
“Every time I’m listed, the only thing missing is a win. You know, I’ve enjoyed playing these things and I’ve had some success, but bottom line is I don’t have one.”
Knapp was in the same position last August before breaking through at The Minikahda Club with a 2-and-1 victory over two-time Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson.
En route to this year’s final match, Knapp has navigated several speed bumps, including a pair of 19-hole victories on Tuesday. He also just snuck into match play on the number, earning the No. 52 seed in a 14-for-13 playoff late Sunday afternoon.
Against the decorated McCoy, who was a member of the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team, Knapp took a 2-up lead at the turn when McCoy three-putted from the front fringe. This came after Knapp missed a short putt on the par-3 seventh to go 2 up and got up and down for birdie from the front of the green to halve the par-5 eighth hole. The next six holes were halved before McCoy converted a 9-foot eagle putt on No. 16.
One hole later, Knapp made a 12-footer on the par-4 17th for birdie and then watched McCoy miss from inside 10 feet to close out the match.
“It’s just been miracle after miracle,” said Knapp of his week, which included matches against three USGA champions (Jack Larkin, Hanzel and McCoy), the 2015 Senior Amateur runner-up (Tom Brandes) and one of the more decorated Californians (Jeff Burda). “I [probably] shouldn’t [have] made it into match play. I make it into match play, I’m getting everybody’s best and they’re all talented.”
Wilson squared the match against Lutz with birdies on Nos. 5 and 8, the latter coming when Lutz lipped out a 3-footer for birdie to halve the hole. Wilson then added birdies on both par 5s on the inward nine (13 and 16) before halving the par-4 17th to earn the victory.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lutz made a 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole to edge Craig Davis, 56, of Chula Vista, Calif., 1 up. McCoy ousted Jerry Rose, 59, of Sarasota, Fla., 3 and 2.
The championship match is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. PDT on Thursday.
- Both finalists are exempt into the 2019 U.S. Senior Open at The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., and next month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club.
- The two semifinal losers received bronze medals and are exempt into the next two U.S. Senior Amateur Championships. Next year’s event is at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C., and the 2020 championship will be conducted at the Golf Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.
- This was the second consecutive year Sean Knapp defeated Doug Hanzel in the U.S. Senior Amateur. En route to the 2017 title, Knapp eliminated Hanzel, 2 and 1, in the Round of 16.
- Sean Knapp has won the par-4 first hole with birdies five of the seven times he’s played it in match play.
- Jeff Wilson has not gone past the 17th hole in any of his five matches this week.
- Knapp is the first player to make consecutive appearances in a Senior Amateur championship match since Mark Bemowski in 2004 and 2005. Bemowski won the title in 2004 and lost in 2005.
- Michael McCoy was vying to become the first U.S. Mid-Amateur champion to win the U.S. Senior Amateur. The Mid-Amateur was started in 1981.
Sean Knapp, of Oakmont, Pa., on his championship-match opponent, Jeff Wilson, who is aiming for his first USGA title:
“I know that in some ways, he’s been more decorated. I may have gotten to semis here and quarters there over my life, but I’ve followed him, and he’s just a great player. There’s no other way to say it. If it were on [the PGA] Tour, you’d be saying the greatest player never to win a major, times two.”
Knapp on having a chance to win consecutive USGA titles, something his best friend Nathan Smith accomplished in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2009 and 2010:
“I have a good teacher. His name is Nathan Smith. He’s won a few USGA events (five). I don’t know, I just try to follow a pattern that he does when he plays. I can’t always do it to the level that he does, but I’ve done it so far, and I’d like to do it one more day, win or lose. If I can follow that formula, that would be great.”
Jeff Wilson, of Fairfield, Calif., on what he told himself after going 2 down early to Chip Lutz:
“I just tried to keep on playing. No. 1, I got it 4, 5 for birdie and he’s off the green for par and he makes it and I miss. I was hitting the shots, I just hadn’t gotten the results. Like I said, I just had to play. You know, it was evident that somebody was going to have to win it and not back into it.”
Chip Lutz, of Reading, Pa., on his overall performance this week:
“Well, it was a great tournament for me. To get this far was kind of miraculous. I was pleased with that. I gave Jeff a good match today, and really didn’t have my best stuff. He was really hitting it great and played solid, and I’m really happy for him. It’ll be a great match to watch he and Sean tomorrow. I’m sorry I won’t be in it, but I’m really thrilled to have gotten this far.”
Michael McCoy on the strength of the four semifinalists with three USGA champions and a co-medalist from stroke play:
“Pretty strong, yeah. I mean, it was just all the same guys you’ve been battling your whole career. Here they still are. Everybody says, well, the senior golf is going to get easy. Well, it doesn’t get any easier.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.