NEWCASTLE, Northern Ireland — It was rough opening day for the players at the Seniors Amateur Championship at Royal County Down. Rain, wind and weather delays made it far from pleasant and scores soared skywards.
When play was finally halted due to darkness at 8.30 pm, the rain was pouring down again and only 25 of the 48 groups had completed their first rounds. The best clubhouse score was 77 and only four players managed to break 80.
On the course, three players shared the lead on one under par, but Hindhead’s Leslie Bruckner, Royal Jersey’s Trevor Gray and American Matthew Sughrue had all just made it through three holes.
Fortunately, the forecast is better for day two and play will resume at 7:00 am. The hope is to complete the 36 holes and the cut will reduce the field to the top 60 and ties for the final round on Friday.
Brady Exber, the defending champion from Las Vegas, completed nine holes in seven-over-par before play was stopped for the night.
“It was horrendous,” said the 59-year-old winner at Ganton 12 months ago. “It was really a little too difficult for us oldies. I honestly had no idea what I shot out there.”
He started reasonably with three straight pars but bogeyed the fifth and had double-bogeys at the fourth, eighth and ninth.
When the klaxon sounded, the leader in the clubhouse on six-over-par 77 was Irishman Tom Cleary. Holder of the Munster, Cork and Connaught Senior titles, the Cork golfer highlighted his round with an eagle at the long 12th and a birdie at the tenth.
“It was a tough old day out there,” he admitted. “But I’ve played the course quite a few times, including at the Seniors Home Internationals a couple of years ago.”
A shot behind was American John McClure, who finished tied for third last year. Playing alongside Cleary, he had a chance to share the lead, but dropped a shot at the 18th.
American Tom Schultz, who was first off the tee at 7:00 am, finally completed a 79 eight hours later. He had endured two stoppages – one for two and a half hours and another for 35 minutes – but he did manage a couple of birdies.
He would have been closer to par but ran up a double-bogey seven at the final hole, the par five 18th.
Schultz was almost relieved when the marathon was over. “I think there about five holes when conditions were reasonable and 13 when it was awful,” he said. “The double-bogey wasn’t a good way to finish.
“But at least it wasn’t too cold. I come from Trinidad in Colorado and sometimes we play when it is really freezing.”
Don Dubois, who is more accustomed to playing in the sunshine in his native California, was the fourth man to break 80.
American Paul Simson, a three-time former winner, was going along quite nicely in the terrible conditions, but hit the buffers at the end and signed for an 80, the same score as two-time former champion, Chip Lutz.
“I finished really poorly,” Simson lamented after he had signed for an 80. “I lost a ball at the 16th and had a triple-bogey seven and also had a seven at the last.”