Amateurs impress at Virginia Senior Open
RICHMOND –– Central Virginia-based PGA professional Rick Schuller (Chester) delivered a final round score of 2-under-par 68 to post a two-stroke victory at the 8th Senior Open of Virginia, which concluded today at The Country Club of Virginia’s Westhampton Course in Richmond.

Making his debut appearance in the event, Schuller, the PGA director of instruction at Swader’s Sports Park in Prince George, finished the championship with a 2-under 138 aggregate (70-68) and was the only competitor in the field to post a two-day total in red numbers.

Amateurs occupied six of the top seven spots of the leaderboard, led by local John Cuomo (Richmond), who also returned 68 and finished at even-par 140. Williamsburg’s Dave Pulk had a final-round71 and closed play three strokes back at 1-over 141. Three other amateurs logged 2-over 142 totals—Col. James Gallagher (Ret.) of Yorktown (68), CCV member Jack Catlettof Richmond (70) and first-round leader Jack Allara of Salem (73).

11502The long-hitting Schuller showed the strength of his all-around game, complementing typically-consistent ball-striking with a deft touch on and around the host site’s slick and demanding putting surfaces that place a premium on shot placement at nearly every turn. Schuller’s final round equaled the low round of this year’s championship, matching the scores by Cuomo and Gallagher.

“Anything under par on this golf course is a great score,” said Schuller, who turned 50 last December. “I wasn’t able to be aggressive on the greens—and it wasn’t because I was playing defensively. I just tried to play smart. This golf course demands such precision.”

Schuller shot 2-under 32 on the first nine, but still had to make up a modest one-stroke deficit to Pulk, who got off to a scintillating start. He birdied each of the first three and five of the first seven holes en route to firing 4-under 30 on the first nine to move to three under par overall.

But Pulk bogeyed the first four holes on the inward half and shot 40 on the inward half, 10 strokes higher than his first nine total.

For his part, Schuller pushed his lead to three strokes at the demanding par-3 12th hole, where he launched his 8-iron tee shot on a high trajectory to a tough hole location that favored the right side. It was the only flight that would get the ball close and Schuller pulled off the shot marvelously. The ball came to rest three and a half feet left of the flagstick. Schuller knocked in the ensuing birdie putt to get to three under for the championship.

“When I hit it, I knew I got all of it,” Schuller said. “I was fortunate where the ball ended up, but it was a quality shot.”

Despite a bogey at the par-4 14th, Schuller showed a steely nerve to keep his lead the rest of the way. At the par-4 15th, he splashed out a well-judged greenside bunker shot to 6 feet above the hole and converted on the slippery downhill par-saver. At No. 16, he displayed an exacting touch again, lofting a short pitch to 4 feet for another up and down conversion.

He pretty much took the drama out on the final two holes, though he was 30 feet above the hole at the last but adroitly lagged the birdie chance to a few inches to seal the victory.

“I prepared myself for this golf course mentally more so than physically,” said Schuller, who will have his name engraved on the Harry W. Easterly Jr. Trophy, honoring the past VSGA and U.S. Golf Association executive director who passed away in the summer of 2005. “I was trying to wrap my mind around being patient and not trying to be too aggressive.

“This is a grey hair popping golf course,” Schuller added with a laugh. “On the last nine holes, I thought, ‘Play like you know you can and don’t do anything stupid.’ ”

Cuomo manufactured a round in red numbers on a course where par is an excellent score. After knocking in an 18-footer birdie putt at the par-5 fourth, he registered consecutive birdies to close the outward half at Nos. 8 (holed a 25-footer) and 9. Cuomo estimated that he got up and down from off the green no less than a half-dozen times, a must to keep one’s round going at CCV Westhampton.

“It was just a very patient day for me,” Cuomo said. “I kept it out of the rough, below the hole and chipped beautifully. I made a lot of 3-, 4- and 5-footers. You have to stay under the hole and most of the time I was under the hole or in a good position on the side. On my chip shots, I was only a few feet off the green—it was right in front of me. It worked out well.”

It’s been a memorable 10-day plus stretch for Schuller, who recently won the senior division of the MAPGA ClubCar Head Professional Championship. With his Senior Open of Virginia victory, Schuller became one of three players to own wins in the State Open of Virginia and the Senior Open. Schuller won the State Open in 1998. The others to hold both titles are PGA professional Jon Corliss of Virginia Beach (2008 Senior Open and 2003 State Open winner) and amateur Keith Decker of Martinsville (2010 Senior Open as well as the 1996, 2001 and 2002 State Open champion).

“That’s a neat feather to have in my cap,” Schuller said. “To turn 50 and win—it’s not about the money. It’s about the title. It’s a great feeling.”

ABOUT THE Senior Open of Virginia

Thirty-six holes of stroke play; the championship is open to male amateurs and pros, ages 50 and over.

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