NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Sept. 17, 2014) — Patrick Tallent, 61, of Vienna, Va., and Bryan Norton, 55, of Mission Hills, Kan., each won two matches Wednesday to advance to the championship match of the 60th USGA Senior Amateur Championship at Big Canyon Country Club.
Tallent, the 2010 U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up, defeated Rick Cloninger, 57, of Fort Mill, S.C., 3 and 1, while Norton advanced with a 2-and-1 win over 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randal Lewis, 57, of Alma, Mich., in the afternoon semifinals.
Tallent, who survived a 15-for-13 playoff on Monday to qualify for match play, faced a daunting task right off the bat, drawing 2013 medalist and three-time semifinalist Chip Lutz, 59, of Reading, Pa., in Monday’s first round. But he squeezed out a 1-up win and has been on a roll ever since.
“When I shot 79 the first day [of qualifying], when Chip Lutz had a 3½-footer to force extra holes in the first round … I was ready to go down the first hole, thinking we’d be coming back [to the clubhouse] and Chip would be the winner,” said Tallent, who was the medalist in 2010 at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, where he lost in the final to Paul Simson, 2 and 1.
But as the No. 60 seed in 2014, Tallent has defied the odds in consistently sending home higher-seeded players.
In the quarterfinals on Wednesday morning, Tallent rolled to a 6-and-5 victory over the last remaining Californian, Michael Turner, of Sherman Oaks.
In the afternoon semifinal, Tallent won holes 14 and 15, the former with a three-putt bogey and the latter when his opponent failed to get up and down from greenside rough. On the par-4 17th hole, Cloninger hit his tee shot out of bounds. When he failed to hole out from the fairway with his fourth shot, he conceded the hole and match to Tallent.
“This golf course is one that requires playing it to get to know these uphill shots and downhill shots,” said Tallent, who is competing in his 27th USGA championship. “It’s a very local-knowledge type of golf course. At first, I said I don’t like the uphill shots and then I got to where I can tolerate them and now I’ve actually started to figure it out.”
Tallent, who has putted well since the first 10 holes of stroke-play qualifying, figures that converting birdie opportunities will be key to defeating Norton in Thursday’s final.
“You need to putt like you are putting for pars when you are putting for birdies and I’m sure every pro will tell you that,” said Tallent. “And that’s why we’re amateurs because we don’t do that.”
Norton faced his own challenges on Wednesday afternoon against Lewis, the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
“When you’re playing somebody like Randy, who has a national reputation, you know they’re not going to make many mistakes,” said Norton, who defeated Peter Wegmann, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 2 and 1, in the morning quarterfinals.
Lewis, who lost holes 2 and 3 with bogeys, quickly found himself down to Norton.
“I wasn’t as consistent as I would like to be,” said Lewis, who defeated Jack Hall, of Savannah, Ga., 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals. “That’s what Bryan did today; he was consistently solid.”
Lewis would cut into the lead once, on the par-4 fifth, when Norton was bunkered and missed his 7-foot par attempt.
Norton, who works in the insurance industry, will be competing in his second USGA final. At the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur, he lost to Nathan Smith in the 36-hole final when he defaulted after nine holes due to a calf injury sustained while hitting an awkward approach shot from above a fairway bunker.
“Every day is so different,” said Norton, a member of the winning Kansas team at the 2010 USGA Men’s State Team Championship. “I feel so happy that I’m going into [the final] tomorrow.”
Both finalists are exempt from qualifying for next year’s U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Open. The champion receives a 10-year U.S. Senior Amateur exemption, plus an exemption from local qualifying for next year’s U.S. Open, as well as custody of the Senior Amateur Championshp Trophy for one year. The runner-up receives a three-year Senior Amateur exemption
Wednesday’s semifinal losers are exempt for the next two U.S. Senior Amateurs.
The U.S. Senior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play, after which the field is reduced to the low 64 scorers for match play. Six match-play rounds determine the champion, with the 18-hole final set for Thursday at 8:30 a.m. PDT.
The U.S. Senior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.