Am Tour: Senior competitors prepare for and embrace four rounds of golf at Nationals

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It's one of the oldest cliché's in sports: It's not a sprint; it's a marathon, and it's certainly apropos when it comes to describing the Golf Channel Amateur Tour Senior National Championship.

For most of the nearly 600 competitors this will have been their only four-round tournament of the year, maybe even their lives, if this is the only time they play in Nationals. Some prepare beforehand, while others try to pace themselves while they're here. And it's not only physical, but mental as well. It's hard to keep the proper level of focus for four straight days.

That was evident on Wednesday after round three where many players shot some of the highest scores of the week. The reception that night wasn't as crowded either as many players probably felt like they needed to get a little extra rest after three days in the heat and humidity of southwest Florida.

"We're used to playing one or two days, and that's it," said Richard Stein, of Cheektowaga, N.Y. "But it's nice to do this once a year, and it's something you work all year to do. It's also nice to play four different courses."

Indeed, playing four different courses, including the famed Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship, is part of the appeal of this event. But it's also a challenge. While the tour pros get to know a course better and better with each day, players in the Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals must adjust from course to course.

You can't play four practice rounds (the Open Nationals precede the Seniors), so Cliff Capps, who is playing in his third national championship, did a little homework prior to making the trip from Enterprise, Ala. Playing in the Jones Flight (12-15.9) Capps scoured the internet tofound out as much information as he could about the three courses at Innisbrook as well nearby Fox Hollow Golf Club. But he took a step further when at the nightly receptions when he sought feedback from players in the other flights on the courses he would be playing the next day."

"Of course they all said, 'stay out the rough,'" said Capps, a retired Army aviator. "But you learn a few other things, like how the greens are."

For John Juntilia, who was tied for 19th after three days in the Championship Flight, his regular routine back home in Spring Park, Minn. (Twin Cities area) has served him well this week.

"I play a lot of golf and practice a lot, so I'm in fairly good shape," said Juntilla, who is playing in his fourth Senior National Championship.

Juntilla's routine at Island View Country Club in Waconia, Minn., includes practicing twice a week (mostly chipping and on the course) as well as playing three times a week. It still doesn't make him immune to pitfalls that all golfers can have in tournament golf, especially over the course of a 72-hole event.

"It can be tough, especially if you don't have your swing and you can't find it," he said. "You just have to go back to fundaments – posture, grip, etc., and stick with it."

Jim Kass lives in the Ocoee, Fla., near Orlando, which pretty much has an identical climate to the Tampa area.

"I've been doing endurance biking in 100-degree heat and 100 percent humidity, about 35 miles a week," said Kass, who is playing in the Hogan Flight (8-11.9).

He also worked hard on his putting and played tree-lined Orlando area courses that he thought would prepare him well for Innisbrook.

And while he's here, he scheduled massages after the first and third round to work out the soreness.

Of course, the mental grind can be just as taxing. Stein remembers what it was like in 2013 when he won the Sarazen Flight (12-15.9).

"That was a grind, both in terms of pressure and nerves," said Stein.

Like many players, Stein's spouse comes with him. He and Debbie Stein go out to eat together, attend functions and like to explore the area.

"It's a nice balance while we're here, not all golf," said Stein.

Are four rounds too much, too tiring?

"Not if you love golf," Alabama's Clapp said.