CASHIERS, N.C. – Following two days of sunshine and mild temperatures, heavy rain made an unwelcome return visit to the mountains of western North Carolina.
With a 4-hour, 15-minute delay on Wednesday due to unplayable conditions, the 2013 USGA Senior Amateur quarterfinalists had some unexpected time to ponder what the day at Wade Hampton Golf Club would hold.
Play began at 12:15 p.m. EDT, and medalist Chip Lutz, 58, of Reading, Pa.; two-time U.S. Senior Open low amateur Douglas Hanzel, 56, of Savannah, Ga.; Buzz Fly, 58, of Memphis, Tenn., and Pat O’Donnell, 59, of Happy Valley, Ore., earned spots in the semifinals.
The USGA Senior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA. The competition began with two stroke-play qualifying rounds, followed by a cut to the low 64 golfers for match play, which began on Monday. The competition concludes on Thursday with the semifinals and the 18-hole championship match.
Due to heavy fog, the semifinal matches, which were scheduled to commence late Wednesday afternoon, were postponed to Thursday morning, beginning at 7:45 a.m. The 18-hole championship match will follow.
“I was trying to relax, it was really difficult,” said Lutz, who rolled to a 4-and-3 win over fellow Pennsylvanian Ray Thompson, of Drexel Hill. “It was a lot of starting and stopping, and in this format you hope to get started and keep moving. We were here three times [at the club] until we finally got the word that we were going to tee it up. Then we had 45 minutes to get ready to go.
“It was a lot of waiting and a bunch of hurrying up. Once we got going things fell back into place.”
The delay didn’t seem to have any effect on Lutz’s game as the two-time Senior Amateur semifinalist (2010 and 2011) continued his dominance on the 6,842-yard, par-72 Tom Fazio design.
With a hot putter and skillful shotmaking, Lutz, owner of two British Senior Open Amateur and two Canadian Senior Amateur titles (both in 2011 and 2012), carded six birdies, including four in a five-hole stretch on the first nine. Lutz, who was three under par (with the usual match-play concessions), has bettered par in all six of his competitive rounds this week, including a pair of 69s in qualifying.
He is vying to become the first medalist to win the title since John Richardson in 1987.
“The birdies were the key to keeping things going and getting momentum,” said Lutz. “I made a bunch of birdies and I was able to hold Ray off.”
Lutz’s win set up a semifinal match against Hanzel, who defeated Don Erickson III, of Dubois, Pa., 3 and 1.
Hanzel, a semifinalist last year in his first Senior Amateur, seems undaunted by the prospect of a duel with the hottest competitor in the field.
“I know Chip,” said Hanzel, who in 2012 became the first player in USGA history to make match play in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur in the same year. “We have played some events together. He is a great player. I am going to have to play better.”
Situated in what is termed a subtropical rain forest, Wade Hampton receives an average of 100 inches of rain a year. But the 26-year-old club is equipped with a state-of-the-art drainage system and, despite receiving more than an inch of precipitation, the maintenance staff quickly had the course prepared for play.
Fly didn’t think that the soggy conditions factored in his 5-and-3 win over 2010 Senior Amateur runner-up Patrick Tallent, of Vienna, Va. He registered five birdies, including four on the inward nine at Nos. 10, 12, 13 and 15 to close out his opponent.
“The greens are still good, really good,” said Fly, whose only other USGA appearance came two years ago in a first-round loss at the Senior Amateur. “You can’t even tell that it rained out there. They are still fast, even with water on them.”
Playing in the last quarterfinal match of the day, O’Donnell jumped on David Szewczul, of Farmington, Conn., early and earned a 5-and-4 victory. O’Donnell took a 5-up lead at the ninth hole with an up-and-down par from 75 yards out after his drive found shrubs to the right of the fairway. He made a 10-foot putt before Szewczul failed to convert from 8 feet.
“Dave made a few mistakes early,” said O’Donnell. “That ninth probably was the turning point. I hit a great wedge in and made the putt.”
Lutz and Hanzel will tee off at 7:45 a.m., followed by the Fly-O’Donnell match at 8 a.m.