Senior comfortable, productive in U.S. debut

Jack Senior during the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

ERIN, Wis. – The last time Jack Senior visited the United States was when he went to Disney World as a boy, yet as he looked around this week at Erin Hills, everything felt so familiar. The wind whistling through the golden fescue. The burned-out, rolling fairways. The ragged-edged bunkering. The temperature, well, that was a bit different. But you get the idea: The Englishman’s first experience playing in the U.S. was a rousing success, even with a loss Saturday in the semifinals of the 111th U.S. Amateur.

“The lesson I learned,” Senior said, “was that I should be out here playing more often. This style of game suits me. This is where I feel most comfortable.”

Senior, 23, a member of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, said he originally decided to play the U.S. Amateur only because, at No. 20, he was exempt through the World Amateur Ranking and needed match-play experience before the Walker Cup in two weeks. At home, he plays at local Heysham Golf Club in northwest England, about 40 minutes from Royal Lytham. Imagine his delight, then, when he won the Lytham Trophy in May.

“But everyone always said to me, ‘Get yourself back to the States because you’d perform well out there and the courses suit your game,’ ” Senior said. “That showed this week. I’ve got no complaints.”

Not even after falling one match shy of reaching the finals. Saturday against Kelly Kraft, a graduating senior at SMU, Senior won the opening hole with a birdie but never led again. He seemed poised to return the match to all square after winning the ninth hole with a par and having a decided advantage off the tee on No. 10, but his long-iron approach stayed on the upper level and he three-putted from 50 feet. Kraft, meanwhile, ripped a 3-wood into the wind and caught the slope, his ball funneling toward the cup for an easy two-putt and win.

Two down on No. 14, a reachable par 5, Senior hit 3-wood off the tee and was unable to find the green with his second shot. After a mammoth drive, Kraft’s 5-iron from 218 yards nestled to within 5 feet for a conceded eagle and a 3-up lead, and he won the match two holes later.

“He played great all day,” Senior said of Kraft, 22, who will face top-ranked Patrick Cantlay in Sunday’s 36-hole final. “I have no complaints. I worked him all day, but he was the deserved winner, that’s for sure.”

Will they meet again in two weeks at the Walker Cup? Possibly, if Kraft wins Sunday. But Senior got plenty of practice against Walker Cup-caliber talent at Erin Hills: He beat hopeful Corbin Mills; talented Alabama freshman Justin Thomas; John Hahn, a decorated player at Kent State; and Texas freshman Jordan Spieth, who likely will be named to the Walker Cup team on Sunday.

As for the GB&I’s chances at Royal Aberdeen, Senior said, laughing: “We’re praying for some bad weather.” Then he added: “I think we’ve got a great chance, but (the U.S.) has a great side, and every player on our team has to be on top of their game.”

At least that will be a true home game.

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