Lutz falls at USGA Senior Amateur

Chip Lutz during the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Chip Lutz during the U.S. Senior Amateur.

WEST CALDWELL, N.J. – The bigger they are, the louder they crash.

Here at Mountain Ridge Country Club, everybody seemed to be talking about the fall of Chip Lutz in the first round of match play in the USGA Senior Amateur Championship. Lutz, widely recognized as the top senior amateur golfer in the world, ended up Monday on the short end of a 1-up victory by Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Lutz ran into the 'Big 60s,' as in the 60-year-old Knoll and his amazing 60-degree wedge.

The match had a spectacular finish. The 57-year-old Lutz, who lives in Reading, Pa., was 1 down heading into the 412-yard, par-4 18th hole. He hit a brilliant second shot that left him with a 6-foot birdie putt. Meanwhile, Knoll missed the green short and right.

Knoll, who paced his distance from the hole at 70 feet, decided to hit a low, spinning shot with his 60-degree friend.

“I love this club," Knoll said. "I pinched it. I hit it perfect, to be honest. I hit a low, driving shot – it looks like it’s going too far, but it checks on the second bounce. When it got to about 5 feet from the hole, I heard Chip say, ‘It’s going in.’

“And it did. All day I scraped it around, just held on, just kept him honest. I wanted to make as many pars as I could and force him to make birdies to win.”

Lutz birdied the first hole with a 15-foot putt, but didn’t birdie another hole all day. Knoll denied him the opportunity to birdie 18 to send the match into extra holes.

“It was a terrible putting day for Chip,” Knoll said. “He three-putted from places where he probably never imagined he would three-putt. He hit a bunch of putts that really didn’t come close.”

Here’s how dominant Lutz has been in the past two years: He won the British Senior Amateur and Canadian Senior Amateur in 2011 and 2012, making him 4-for-4 in those senior majors. In the other senior major, the USGA Senior Amateur, he lost in the semifinals in 2010 and 2011. Heading into last year’s USGA Senior Amateur, he had not lost a senior amateur competition all year.

Lutz, acknowledging his putting woes, is a dedicated user of the long putter (chest putter) and plans to stick with it. “Unless the USGA outlaws the method,” he said.

This is the third season in which Lutz has used the long putter. Although he calls himself a “good putter,” he said he has “practiced hard and worked hard” with the Mike Bell-designed long putter and is “putting better than ever before.”

The Lutz philosophy: “If you are dedicated to working hard at anything, you can improve and see positive results.”

On this day, the positive results didn’t happen. The match was all square after eight holes, but Lutz lost the pivotal par-5 ninth hole. He reached the green with his second shot but 3-putted for par. Knoll, who had chipped 15 feet past the hole, sank the putt for birdie and took a lead he never surrendered.

Lutz wasn’t making excuses, but his wife, Bonnie, had heart surgery last week to repair a mitral valve. She is doing fine, but clearly Lutz has been concerned.

Knoll’s giant-killer day started early. Just to get into match play, he had to survive an 11-for-9 playoff for the final spots. He parred the first two playoff holes to earn his spot.

“When I got here and it was cold and windy, I knew the golf course was going to be really different,” he said. “I knew pars were going to be really good, and they were.”

Knoll was congratulated by dozens, if not hundreds, of people. Still, he said this day was No. 2 on his list of memorable golf experiences.

First on the list was the 2007 U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits, where he birdied the 36th hole to make the cut. His two sons, Nicholas and Kevin, alternated as his caddie during the championship.

“What a fantastic experience,” he said. “This one, though, is close.”

Knoll will take on Sam Till Jr. of Fort Wayne, Ind., in Tuesday morning’s second round.

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