My favorite trip of the year is always to the UK to compete in the Senior Open and Senior Amateur. If I don’t qualify for the Open, I always have a week before the start of the Amateur. And this year I needed to the week to figure out how I was going to walk three days in a row on very a very uneven surface at North Berwick.
My travel companion and I showed up in North Berwick in the early evening and decided to go check out the course and maybe play a few holes. I went to the starters house and introduced myself and inquired about playing a few holes. With a smile and wink, he proclaimed that he was leaving in 30 minutes, as well as the course Marshall. I took that as we could play a few holes after he left of course, which we did.
The beauty of playing golf in the UK in summertime is you can almost play till 10pm in June and July. We hit our rocks off number 1 at about 8:00 pm and quickly played about 14 holes in less than two hours. I wanted to stress test my ankle and see how it would feel the next day.
The hotel I stayed at overlooked the 16th and 3rd holes, with the bay in the background. The vista also included many Islands as well. MacDonald Marine is the place to stay in North Berwick if your there for a view and golf. The hotel staff was awesome as they kept putting my ankle wrap in their freezer to accommodate my icing schedule. Additionally I dragged with me across the pond a 10 pound bag of Dead Sea -Sea Salt for soaking in the tub. Additionally I had just purchased a Bemer (more on that later) for the electrical stimulus it provides for healing and health.
I HAD IT ALL GOING ON- Ice, heat, Bemer, and then I added a few visits to a acupuncture specialist that twice provided me with acupuncture and a tight wrap of my ankle. The goal was to play two rounds, make the cut (top 40) and play the third round and not lose ground in my world ranking (WAGR)
The WAGR used to not be relevant and only for ego purposes, but FINALLY like with the pro’s the WAGR ranking which can be sorted by age is now used for exempting senior players into the USGA Senior Amateur this year for the first time. The WAGR has been used for many year to exempt players into the USGA Amateur and Mid Amateur. The number one ranked player gets exempted into the US Open.
The trick to the ranking is that the Senior events have fewer points allocated as opposed to the regular amateur and Mid Am events. So if you care about your ranking you’ll try to play in events with high points allocated to the events based on how strong the field is. If you play in an event that has 20 players ranked in the top 1500, then the event will have significantly more points than an event with fewer ranked players.
So the Senior majors- USGA Senior Am, Senior Am will have the most players ranked in the top 1500, which means you’ll need to perform well in these to creep up the ranking. My goal for 2019 was to be in the top 15 world ranked seniors (over 55) to obtain one of the coveted exemptions into the USGA Senior Amateur. The cut off date for looking at the ranking list is always the entry closing. And I was thrilled when on July 10th I received an email from the USGA telling me I had earned a spot in this years event, therefore forgoing my scheduled qualifier which would have been the day after I returned from the UK in San Diego.
Now in North Berwick my focus was on being able to compete, while having to walk this very long walking course. I decided on one practice round on Monday, with rest scheduled for Tuesday before the event began on Wednesday. I also decided to hit the gym daily with a light weight workout followed by 20 laps in the pool. The challenge as you age is losing muscle mass, and at age 60 it begins to rapidly accelerate. My distance off the tee and with my irons is my advantage playing senior golf (but not against the kids and mid am players).
At North Berwick the course heads Straight south down the coastline for 8 consecutive holes, cuts back towards the water on the par 5 9th hole and then heads straight back north and back into the wind for the final 10 holes.
My attitude is always to look at whatever tee time I’m given as a positive, as you never know what the weather will be like when your tee time arrives. But when I arrived a week early on that Wednesday and saw that I had the second to last tee time at 3:28 followed by an 11:45 tee time the second day, I was less than pleased. The other top players had nice pairings with nice mid morning times, which felt to me a little disrespectful for a guy that was runner-up the prior year. I’m sure the R&A and pairing committee does not look at me as one of the top players, and therefore slotted me in with a late time. When I qualify for the Open, I am always sure I’ll either get the super early time or late one, which I fully embrace as a qualifier.
I’m pretty sure nobody that is involved assigning tee times in the Senior Amateur will ever read this and respond, but in my promise to keeping this real, I really wonder sometimes about the politics involved in some of the variable things in golf. In the end, the truth is I’m just thrilled to even be playing in a global championship, and every time I tee it up in an event like the Senior Amateur I never know when it will be my last. I cherish and take extra time to look round more, take some deeper breaths and enjoy every second.
I won’t even get into the fact that I don’t sleep well over in the UK. My jet lags lasts for weeks and I never can seem to sleep well at night. I find myself always wanting and needing a nap in the afternoons. But what the heck do you do with a 3:28pm tee time. I tried to sleep as late as possible, and woke at 11:00. After waking I did an 8 minute session with my Bemer, and then hit the pool for 10 laps to warm up my body. I thought perhaps a late breakfast around noon would be best, and supplement myself with snacks during the round. The R&A does a great job providing us with drinks and food on the course to stay hydrated and energized.
My strategy in assessing the course and what I needed to do was very simple. The front nine had 3 par 5 holes, all very reachable, and mostly downwind. The back had only one tougher par 5, and many challenging par 4 holes back into the breeze. This course certainly rewards the straight and long hitter, like most golf courses. But with severe fairways bunkers and very high and nasty rough just off the fairways, driving accuracy was at a premium, especially on the back nine holes.
I think I’ve provided enough build up to the start of the event, I was doing all my therapy to give my ankle a chance to survive walking the 54 holes over 3 days. Surprisingly the Senior Amateur is really the only event that requires you to walk the entire event. Which normally I like.
The first hole at North Berwick is this cool short par four that requires you to lay up well short on a flat area before the fairways goes down a small hill and into an area where you will most likely not like your thin lie. Everyday I hit 6 iron off the tee leaving me about 135 yards to the pin. Each day on number one I hit ok tee shots, but very poor second shots leaving very long birdie putts that had me hoping for two putts and an opening par. On all three days I had to make 5 – 8 foot putts to save my opening par.
On my opening round on day 1, I found myself in a nice groove on the front nine and made a solid birdie on the par 5 3rd hole, followed by another one on the par 3 fourth hole. All pars until I reached the downwind par 5 8th hole where it was a drive baby rescue to 5 feet for an eagle 3. Leaving me with only the par 5 9th hole to finish my front 9. Another good drive followed by a horrible rescue shot to the right left me a VERY tough third shot that somehow I managed to hit to 6 feet from the hole from a very bad side hill lie. After draining the 6 footer for a birdie and a -5 front nine, I tried not to look at the leader board but couldn’t help but notice my name near the top.
Like before in the Senior Open qualifier when I shot the low front nine of -2, here again I was off to a great start. But as before the ankle started to ache, and did not allow me to transfer my weight from my right back to my left, thus leaving to many arm swings with less power and accuracy.
My original goal was to make the cut and play on Friday, I was able to do that with front nines of -5 and -4 followed by back nines of +2 and +2. So I was -9 on the front and +4 on the back with no birdies.
The final round I was super pleased with my pairing with three time Senior Amateur champion Paul Simpson. If you looked at this 68 year old guy, you may think his best days are behind him, but I certainly didn’t think that, and knew that he would compete hard and probably have a chance to win the event. We started the round both at -5 with the lead at -8. That was certainly a lead that we could overcome, especially coming from behind and posting a low number with several holes left for the leaders.
Both Paul and I got off to good starts on the front. I shot -2 and Paul -3 to get us both in the hunt. I tried my best not to look at any leader boards at this stage as I wanted to just play golf. As Paul continued to play well, I began to struggle on the back nine with several bogies, followed by a few more. Paul had three very bad three putt greens and also played his way out of contention which I was sorry to see.
Now my goal was to finish in the top 20 (which gives you an automatic exemption into the event the next year) I struggled mightily coming down the last few holes and felt I needed to make a 3 foot putt on the last hole to stay inside the top 20. Joyfully I made the putt and finished t17.
My good pal Gene Elliott made a few bogies coming in and ended up tied with Southern California play Craig Davis. After 2 playoff holes Craig hit an amazing shot off a cement road to 10 feet on the 3rd playoff hole and made the putt to claim the championship. Gene Elliott had an amazing two weeks winning the low amateur honors in the Senior Open for the Silver medal, and followed it up with another silver medal in the Senior Amateur. Congrats to both of those great players.
Coming next- Chapter 3 – THE NCGA Match Play and the USGA Senior Amateur