Six amateur golfers outlasted their respective Flights to be crowned national champions at the recent 2013 Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championships (age 50+) at famed PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. More than 550 golfers representing 47 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Canada convened PGA West., Sept. 28-Oct. 1, making it the largest senior national championship field in Am Tour history.
Bob Brooks (Bella Vista, Ark.) held on to claim the Senior Championship Flight, winning by two shots despite a few bumps in the road down the stretch that included triple bogey on nine, a bogey on 15 and a double bogey on 16. In the end, Brooks’ play on the remaining holes was enough to edge out Ron Quick (Murrieta, Calif.) by two shots to win his first national championship.
The Senior Palmer Flight was the lone division that produced a playoff finish, with Ray Henry (Victoria, British Columbia) edging out Bill Foley (Vorore, Tenn.). Henry, 66, who grew up in Portrush, Northern Ireland, shot a final-round 74 to force the playoff on the Palmer Private Course at PGA WEST. On the first playoff hole, Foley’s tee shot landed in a bunker, which opened the door for Henry to seal the victory with a two-putt par.
Randy Hodges (Montgomery, Texas) converted a pressure-packed 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole of the tournament to win the Senior Hogan flight by one shot. The “rookie” of the group, Hodges had never previously played in a four-day tournament prior to this week. However, that inexperience didn’t deter him from a final-round 77 to win.
The 72-hole national championships served as the Am Tour’s culminating event, contested on four PGA WEST courses: the Palmer Private Course – home to the PGA TOUR’s Humana Challenge – the TPC Stadium Course, Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and Greg Norman Course.
Senior Snead Flight (20+ handicap)
Jim Allard (Dover, N.H.) was one of just three players to finish in the top-10 of the Senior Snead Flight while breaking 100 in all four rounds. However, it was his third-round 83 that propelled him to win by four shots, completing his 13-day, 3,000 mile drive from his home in New Hampshire with a championship.
Allard, 65, took up golf in 2002 after a heart attack derailed his career as an underwater photographer. Allard, who works in the Information Technology industry, started playing the Am Tour in 2006. This was his fifth national championship appearance.
He’s driving a northern route home to New Hampshire, playing another dozen rounds before he reaches home. He has dreams of playing golf in every state. He’s at 36 currently, 11 alone on the trip out to California.
“If all goes as planned, I’ll only have Alaska, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana left,” Allard said.
Senior Jones Flight (16.0-19.9)
Holding a nine-shot lead entering the final round of the Senior Jones Flight, John Scott (Houston, Texas) figured it wouldn’t be as easy as it seemed on paper.
In the end, a final-round 90 on the Stadium course left him five shots clear of the next closest competitor – even without his best golf on display.
“The first two days was like riding a bike,” Scott said. “The last two days was like learning to snow ski when you have never been before. It was like I never hit a mid-iron before.”
The owner of an insurance agency, the 66-year-old started playing golf in college after his baseball practices at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. He played baseball (a second baseman) left-handed, but plays golf right-handed.
On his conservative play with such a big lead, Scott said “I kept it in the fairway and out of the bunkers, and I made some putts.”
Senior Sarazen Flight (12.0-15.9)
With the largest margin of victory among the six Flights in the field, Richard Stein (Cheektowaga, N.Y.) used a final-round 89 on the way to a six-shot win in the Senior Sarazen Flight.
The 55-year-old Stein has finished among the top five in his flight in every tournament he’s played in since joining the Am Tour last year except one. That lone exception, a sixth-place at last year’s national championship, provided motivation throughout his season.
“I have the potential to play well, but I was very inconsistent,” Stein said. “When I started playing on Tour, it re-sparked my interest. I started practicing more. The tour is a great thing. At my age, I’m starting to improve again.”
Stein’s father got him into the game when he was 8 years old. Playing in amateur tournaments while growing up, he even competed against Tiger Woods in the Porter Cup. That experience helped hone his patience on the course – which he needed every bit of after making just one birdie over the span of the week.
“I managed to stay out of trouble and avoid the big number. That’s what did it for me,” Stein said.
Senior Hogan Flight (8.0-11.9)
Saving his best shot for last, Randy Hodges (Montgomery, Texas) sunk a 10-foot birdie putt on his 72nd hole to win the Senior Hogan Flight by one shot.
The Flight proved to be the most competitive of the week, with eight players finishing within six shots of the winning score. The 53-year-old started to feel the nerves of the closely contested leaderboard after taking the lead on the second day, and it continued up until his final round where he was slated in the final group.
“It was tough sleeping,” Hodges said. “We didn’t go out until the last group. There is a lot of sitting around trying not to think about it.”
Hodges bounced back from a shaky 86 in the third round with a 77 on the final day to win the title.
Senior Palmer Flight (4-7.9)
Ray Henry – a Northern-Irishman – won the Senior Palmer Flight in dramatic fashion by virtue of a playoff after firing a final-round 74 on the Private Palmer Course.
Henry faced a double-digit deficit heading into the final round that left him not knowing where he stood after his final-round 74.
“I was a long way behind. I didn’t think I had a chance,” Henry admitted. “I just played very steady all week. I don’t hit it far, so I need to hit it dead straight to keep up with the guys who bomb it 40 yards past me.'
A retired traffic controller, Henry now calls Victoria, British Columbia in Canada home, yet still has a lifetime membership to the famed Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland.
“I think all the good Portrush guys are still there. The bad ones moved to Canada,” he said with a laugh. “There have been some good players from there.”
Championship Flight (<3.9)
Despite a few setbacks on his scorecard, Bob Brooks (Bella Vista, Ark.) held on to win the Senior Championship Flight, earning a two-shot victory courtesy of his final-round 74.
A triple-bogey on nine, coupled with a bogey on 15 and a double-bogey on 16 did little to deflate Brooks, who kept his poise down the stretch to provide a fitting end to his first season on the Am Tour.
“Being able to come back with that birdie at 10 showed me that if I just kept my game at the pace I was playing, the guys I was playing with would really have to shoot well to catch me,” Brooks said.
The 56-year-old didn’t take up the game until age 30 after suffering a broken leg during a rugby match. Not wanting to sit around waiting to heal, Brooks began walking nine holes of golf with a cast on his leg.
“I was a little sweaty and sore, but it really benefitted me to learn that way,” he recalled. “It taught me a lot about balance in the swing.”