ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Dave Ryan and Matthew Sughrue will meet in Thursday’s championship match in the 62nd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Old Warson Country Club. In perfect weather conditions and under blues skies the course was set up to play as a par-71 at 7,035 yards for both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches.
Ryan, 62, of Taylorville, Ill., who has been the Chicago District Golf Association’s senior player of the year for six of the last seven years, entered the championship just a week after claiming the Illinois Senior Amateur title and continued his strong play. Ryan defeated Paul Simson a two-time U.S. Senior Amateur winner in his morning match with the help of hole-in-one on the par-4 14th hole, the third known ace on a par 4 in USGA championship history. After beating Simson, who has also held the British and Canadian senior amateur titles, in 20 holes, Ryan bested two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and the medalist of this championship, Tim Jackson, 1 up, to reach the final.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words,” said Ryan, who lives 90 minutes from Old Warson. “To be honest with you, I’m a little shocked. I was fortunate to beat him (Jackson) and Paul Simson. Those are two tough guys to take down.”
Vance Antoniou, who has competed against Ryan for years in the state of Illinois made it clear yesterday, “don’t be surprised if you see Ryan cut through the field to get to the finals. He’s the real deal.”
Like many other players across the country that primarily play only at their state level, Ryan has the golfing tools to be one of the elite players in the world, and, if he goes on to capture the 62nd U.S. Senior Amateur title, the rest of the country will find out what the Chicago District Golf Association has known for the last seven years.
After taking down Michael Dunsmore in Wednesday morning’s quarterfinals 5-and-3, Ryan won the first two holes against former Mid-Am champion, Tim Jackson, in the semifinals and never gave up the lead. After being dormie-1 on the 18th tee, Ryan faced a 9-foot putt to win and admitted afterward that he felt like he needed to win the match there, rather than risk extra holes against a strong opponent.
“It was uphill, and I just had to hit it,” Ryan said. “Fortunately, it went in. That’s a tough hole.”
“He made two good putts in a row there,” said Jackson, of Ryan’s par putt and a birdie on No. 17 that matched Jackson. “When you win matches like that, that’s what you do. I’ve done it before, and I’ve had it done to me.”
Sughrue, 57, of Arlington, Va., came out on top in a pair of back and forth matches beginning with a 1-up triumph in the quarterfinals over 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel. Only nine of the holes in that match were halved, yet neither player enjoyed more than a 1-up lead.
In the semifinals, Sughrue only led for one hole against Kevin Cahill, a quarterfinalist last year, and trailed, 1 down, heading to the 18th tee. He won the 18th with a par after two-putting from 40 feet and won the match in 19 holes after getting up and down from the right of Old Warson’s first green while Cahill struggled to do the same from behind the green.
“The match against Doug was a real grinder. It was really tough against a great player.” Sughrue went on to say, “We didn’t play as well in this one, but on the back nine, we both kind of steadied, and coming down the stretch, it’s not stroke play, it’s a matter of who wins the match.”
Cahill had a chance at victory, however, a wayward drive on the 18th left him in the right tree line while his hooking drive on the 19th hole missed short and left.
“It’s disappointing when you have a 1-up lead going into the last hole. All I had to do was hit the fairway. Just hit the fairway,” said Cahill, 56, of Waukesha, Wis. “I just didn’t drive it well on that hole. I think I hit that fairway twice in all the rounds.”
Players who make the quarterfinals are exempt into next year’s U.S. Senior Amateur at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis. The semifinalists also receive an exemption in the 2018 championship at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club. Ryan and Sughrue are exempt into the next three U.S. Senior Amateurs, as well as next year’s U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur championships. The champion will receive a 10-year U.S. Senior Amateur exemption, two-year exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur, and one-year exemptions into the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
Sughrue, who left his job as an insurance company CEO and went back to graduate school to become a psychotherapist, was unaware of the Senior Open exemption at stake against Cahill, and in retrospect believes that was a good thing.
“I’m glad you didn’t tell me beforehand. I wouldn’t have been able to take [the club] back on that last shot,” he said. “I made one Senior Open (2013), and I had a tough week on the golf course and I think it was overwhelming for me. I never played in front of 40,000 people before. I vowed that if I ever got a chance again, I would be ready for that. I wanted to try to prove myself again at a Senior Open, and now you’re telling me I’m in. I’m just thrilled.”
Jackson, 57, of Germantown, Tenn., never led in his quarterfinal victory over John McClure until the 19th hole, rallying from a 2-down deficit with three holes remaining. Jackson began his comeback by saving par from a bunker on No. 16, then made a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole. He birdied the first hole to win. Jackson was again playing catchup from the get-go against Ryan, and couldn’t draw even.
“I couldn’t do anything,” said Jackson, the 2004 and 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. “I couldn’t drive the ball in the fairway. But I hung in there. I scrambled and did what I could.”
With Jackson’s loss, the drought for medalists winning the U.S. Senior Amateur continues. John Richardson in 1987 is the last Senior Amateur medalist to win the championship, the longest medalist drought of all USGA championships.
The 18-hole championship match is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Thursday.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Results from the quarterfinal round of match play in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at the 7,061-yard, par-71 Old Warson Country Club:
Tim Jackson, Germantown, Tenn. (138) def. John McClure, Los Angeles, Calif. (151), 19 holes
Dave Ryan, Taylorville, Ill. (147) def. Michael Dunsmore, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (148), 5 and 3
Kevin Cahill, Waukesha, Wis. (147) def. John Hornbeck, Saratoga, N.Y. (148), 1 up
Matthew Sughrue, Arlington, Va. (145) def. Doug Hanzel, Savannah, Ga. (144), 1 up
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Results from the semifinal round of match play in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at the 7,061-yard, par-71 Old Warson Country Club:
Dave Ryan, Taylorville, Ill. (147) def. Tim Jackson, Germantown, Tenn. (138), 1 up
Matthew Sughrue, Arlington, Va. (144) def. Kevin Cahill, Waukesha, Wis. (147), 19 holes
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Pairing for Thursday’s 18-hole championship match in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at the 7,061-yard, par-71 Old Warson Country Club:
8:30 a.m. – Dave Ryan, Taylorville, Ill. (147) vs. Matthew Sughrue, Arlington, Va. (144)