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Ivan Lawson jumps to lead at Texas Senior Amateur
Ivan Lawson
Ivan Lawson
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — When Ivan Lawson from Cypress came off the golf course midday Saturday after his second round at the 78th Texas Senior Amateur, he said he felt lucky to shoot 2-over- par 73. He had no idea how much his fortune would change over the next several hours.

At the time Lawson posted his score – which put him at 1-over 143 for the championship – he was tied for second place. But he was a distant five shots behind the first round leader, Mac McGee, who opened Friday with a 4-under 67. As Lawson finished, McGee had yet to start his second round at historic Oak Hills Country Club. When McGee got on the difficult, shot maker’s course in the afternoon, he proceeded to struggle from the start.

By the time McGee made the turn, in fact, he was 6-over for the day and 2- over for the championship. It was an unexpected slide from McGee, winner of the 2012 Senior Porter Cup and 2013 Tower Invitational.

Regardless, the turn of events moved Lawson into the lead of the 54-hole individual stroke play championship. He’ll start Sunday’s final round with a one-shot lead over 2014 TGA Senior Player of the Year Mike Booker from the Woodlands.

“My goal this week was to play my best and make the cut,” said Lawson, a 65-year-old Competency Manager for an oil and gas services company. “I didn’t imagine I’d be in the lead, especially with the great players here this week. Guys like Bob Kearney and Mike Booker, I’ve played with them in Houston. They’re usually winning golf tournaments.”

Now Lawson has his chance.

It is, however, a bit of rarified air. Lawson said several years ago he took four years off from competitive golf when his job relocated him to Dubai. His top finishes in TGA events are a T13 at the 2013 South Texas Senior Amateur, a 23rd-place finish at the 2014 South Texas Senior Am and a T26 in 2014 at the South Texas Four-Ball Championship with partner Eric Alam.

“I just feel fortunate that I was able to get it in with 73 today,” he said. “I’ve been hitting the ball well, but the golf course was set up tough today. The holes were difficult to putt.”

As for the elephant in the room, what does Lawson think about potentially winning the second oldest men’s state championship in Texas?

“I’m not even thinking about winning,” he said. “I won’t be thinking about it tomorrow, either. I’ll be thinking about hitting it in the middle of the fairway.”

That’s a mindset Booker can appreciate. The 60- year-old Principal Owner of an assets management firm in Houston has used a similar outlook to win golf tournaments for decades. The former All- American and national champion at the University of Houston won the 2014 Texas Four-Ball Championship with Mike Peck from Irving; Booker won the 2013 Mid-Amateur Match Play Championship here at Oak Hills CC; he advanced to the Sweet 16 at the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur and has played in 11 other USGA national championships.

As for this week, Booker put together rounds of 71-73 and sits one shot behind Lawson. He said he didn’t hit the ball Saturday as well as he did Friday. He started the second round with a bogey on the first hole and suffered two more on the day. He rallied, however, with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. From 245 yards out on the 527-yard, par-5 15th, Booker knocked his 3-wood on the green and two-putted for birdie.

“I wasn’t quite as sharp today,” said Booker, who also won the 2012 TGA Senior Player of the Year award. “I made a couple birdies to salvage it, but I really didn’t play that well.”

The best round of the day came from someone who knows almost the bumps and subtle breaks of iconic Oak Hills CC as well as anyone. Bruce Niles, a member at the club since 2008, shot a 2-under 69 to jump up 30 spots the leaderboard into third place at 4-over 146. Niles made four birdies on an extremely demanding course that features thick round, century-old live oaks that protect the narrow fairways and some of the quickest Bermuda grass greens in the state.

“The pace of the greens is faster than what we’re used to seeing,” Niles said. “But the course is in really good shape. It’s tough, but it’s fair. If you hit a good shot, you’re rewarded. If you don’t you’re punished.”

Niles said he and his fellow members were excited to showcase Oak Hills CC to the best seniors in Texas. They’re equally eager to play host to the 107th Texas Amateur next summer.

“As a membership, we’re really proud of this course,” Niles said. “We know it could be one of the best in South Texas with a little fine tuning.”

Rounding out the top five were Larry Nunez from Austin and Lewis Stephenson from Mansfield. They’re tied for fourth place at 5-over 147. Nunez shot 2-over 73 on Saturday; Stephenson posted 3-over 74.

McGee, the first round leader, fell back with an 85.

“On this course, if you miss fairways and greens, it’s going to be brutal,” McGee said. “I really didn’t play that much worse today. I just missed a few more fairways.”

Fifty-nine players made the 36-hole cut at 15- over 157.

This year’s Texas Senior Amateur is the sixth TGA major championship conducted at Oak Hills CC. In 1998, the last time the club hosted the Texas Senior Amateur, Texas Golf Hall of Famer Don Addington won a record- breaking sixth title. In addition to many other championships, Oak Hills hosted the first PGA Tour Championship in 1987 and the 2001 U.S. Junior Amateur.

The final round of the 78th Texas Senior Amateur begins Sunday at 8 a.m.

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