Former USGA president gives Senior Am a try

Fred Ridley plays a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2008 Masters.

Fred Ridley plays a shot during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2008 Masters.

MANAKIN-SABOT, Va. – Overhead in the gallery at the U.S. Senior Amateur: “I can’t believe it. lsn’t that Fred Ridley out there?”

True, Ridley competed in the Senior Amateur, missing the 36-hole cut in the medal-play portion of the championship.

With scores of 72 and 83 at Kinloch Golf Club, the former U.S. Golf Association president from Tampa, Fla., posted a 155 total that left him out of the low 64 qualifiers for match play.

Amateurs 55 and older are eligible for the Senior Amateur. Match play begins Monday and ends Thursday, with Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., attempting to defend the title he won last year.

Despite Ridley's not having qualified, he remains something of a poster boy for the USGA because he is a past president and a past U.S. Amateur champion.

If the USGA required its administrators and officers to pass a playing-ability test - the dreaded PAT for the aspiring club professionals - we might not have a USGA.

Thank goodness the game of golf in the United States is ruled by golfers who love the game far more convincingly than they might be able to play it.

Ridley, though, is an attorney who excels at both. The two-term USGA president (2004 and 2005) won the U.S. Amateur in 1975 with a 2-up victory in the final over future PGA Tour pro Keith Fergus.

For more than 35 years, Ridley has been the answer to a trivia question: Who was the last U.S. Amateur champion never to turn pro?

Peter Uihlein or Kelly Kraft could replace Ridley as the answer, but don’t count on it. They are the last two Amateur champions and appear destined, like so many before them, to test their ability on the professional level.

Thus it is likely that Ridley will retain his distinction.

The big question for Ridley: Why is he playing in his first U.S. Senior Amateur at 59? As a former U.S. Amateur champion, he was exempt for the Senior Amateur when he turned 55. However, he skipped four straight championships before entering this year. What’s up?

“I just had not been playing any golf,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like I was anywhere ready to play. Coming back to Virginia was kind of fun for me. I played really well yesterday, but I just absolutely went in the tank today.

“I had a bunch of big holes today. But it’s consistent with not playing any competition. This is the first USGA event I’ve entered in 24 years.

“It was really fun getting out here. I kind of got some of the competitive juices going.”

Along the way, Ridley’s group received an official warning for slow play.

“I might have been a little slower than normal,” he said, “just because I haven’t been playing competitively. The system they have for slow play is a good system. We got warned. We started racing. I made a double and a triple the next two holes, and that probably kept me from making match play.”

Ridley won his U.S. Amateur down the road at The Country Club of Virginia (James River Course). Both The CC of Virginia and Kinloch are located near Richmond. Kinloch was co-founded by Richmond resident Vinny Giles, who owns titles in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur.

Giles, 68, also received a slow-play warning in the second round of medal play here, but he survived with a 72 for the day and a 147 total.

Jack Vardaman, 71, a former USGA legal counsel and Executive Committee member, also posted a 147 score to move into match play.

Vardaman, a Washington attorney, also accomplished something his two USGA comrades, Ridley and Giles, did not. He finished his round without a slow-play warning.

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