RICHMOND –– Salem’s Jack Allara shot an opening-round 1-under-par 69 and is atop a crowded leaderboard entering Friday’s final day of the 8th Senior Open of Virginia being conducted at The Country Club of Virginia’s Westhampton Course. The championship is open to amateurs and professional golfers, ages 50 and older.
With slick and sometimes-treacherous greens serving as the layout’s primary defense, only three competitors shot a round of par or better, but 15 competitors are within three strokes of the lead. In addition to Allara’s aggregate in red numbers, local amateur Steve Issacs (Richmond) had even-par 70 as did event rookie and PGA professional Rick Schuller (Chester), the PGA director of instruction at Swader’s Sports Park in Prince George.
Arlington’s Greg Scott, the PGA director of golf at northern Virginia’s Army Navy Country Club, Harry Griffin (Moseley), the head PGA professional at Glenwood Golf Club in Richmond and amateur Dave Pulk (Williamsburg) each logged 1-over 71. Ten other competitors are four back at 2-over 72.
Though the layout measures less than 6,000 yards, being in the wrong place or above the hole on the greens assures a difficult putt that requires exacting pace. But Allara registered three birdies against a bogey—and used just 29 putts. He birdied the final two holes to shoot 2-under 32 on the outward half, knocking in two putts inside 10 feet. After falling back to even par for the round on the second nine, Allara made birdie from 3 feet at the par-4 15th hole.
“I got a little lucky. I got a couple up and down and I made a few birdies,” Allara said. “The golf course is playing tough. The greens are very challenging. You just try not to make too many mistakes. You try to keep the ball below the hole, but that’s not always possible. You have to be close enough to roll the ball on line. In my [grouping] I saw a lot of good putts that touched the hole and went 4 or 5 feet by.”
Competitors praised the host layout as a stern but fair test and Allara echoed the chorus.
“I would say the course is in the best shape it’s ever been in. Of course, you always say that when you play well. [Friday], I may be saying, ‘Who the heck mowed the greens?’ ” Allara said with a laugh. “CCV is to be commended for what they’ve done.”
Allara has competed in five USGA championships, with his last start being in the 2012 U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club, near Detroit and he said the greens were tougher in the first round at CCV Westhampton than they were at that national championship.
Like those at the top of the leaderboard, Isaacs put together a strong first nine, collecting three straight birdies from Nos. 2-4. And as was the case with many fellow-competitors things got tougher as the round progressed.
A consistently solid ball-striker, at 65, Isaacs made the cut at last week’s VSGA Mid-Amateur. Isaacs has admittedly battled his alignment on putts this season, but tried a new technique, closing his right eye when aiming and rolled the ball more consistently on such tough greens.
“I feel confident that I’m at least on line,” Isaacs said. “Putting didn’t really kill me today like it has all year. Downhill, downgrain, [the greens are] like a sliding board, but they had it set up fairly.”
Schuller’s round included three birdies, all inside 7 feet, and it was good enough to put him in the last group of four with Allara, Isaacs and Scott on the final day. The winner of the senior division of the MAPGA ClubCar Head Professional Championship 10 days ago, the 50-year-old Schuller is trying to build on what’s already been a strong season.
All told, the champion will likely be determined by who can position their ball best and handle the course’s menacing putting surfaces.
“The green complexes are what defend the golf course,” Schuller said. “It’s very tough to get the ball close to the hole, even from the fairway. You have to figure out what it means to be under the hole and how to get it there. Even on 10-footers you have to be cautious with your speed.”
View results for Senior Open of Virginia Golf Championship