By Peter Wlodkowski, amateurgolf.com
Kemp Richardson: A Saturday Game at El Niguel Country Club
You might think that a person who routinely shoots under par and wins
national senior events might have pondered a career on the Champions Tour. That
thought, however, hasn’t crossed the career stock broker’s mind.
He once played with Tom Watson at the US Senior Open, and while he could have
made a decent check the year he finished in 35th place, Richardson is humble
about his place in the game. (Let this be a lesson to anyone that ponders a second
career on the Champions Tour.)
What does a two-time USGA Senior Amateur Champion do on a Saturday following
a second round loss in Indiana at the 2006 Senior Amateur the week before?
Shoot a leisurely, 7-birdie round of 69 -- at his home-away from home, El Niguel
Country Club in Laguna Niguel.
Two-time USGA Senior Amateur champion Kemp Richardson gives new meaning to “golf
after 55,” and I jumped at the chance to play with him in his regular
I have met Kemp before, off the course, and his familiar straw hat and “perfect
finish” have graced the web pages of amateurgolf.com many times. When
my host Pat Mateer (the president of Championship Golf) and I drove to the
tee and parked next to the other cart, all signs pointed to the regular Socal
Saturday riding game – until we hit our tee balls and Kemp picked up
his tiny Sunday bag a day early and strode up the walking swath towards the
Richardson is a fit 60, and he has no trouble keeping up with the riders – it
doesn’t hurt that he hit it 10 less times than anyone else in the group,
The man possesses an unhurried swing that has paid for itself many times over,
from his All American days at USC through his stellar senior career.
”The thing about Kemp,” said El Niguel member Brad Friel (the fourth
player in our group on Saturday) “is that he looks the same swinging
a 5-iron as he does a driver.”
Richardson fired off 4-straight pars, and then nearly aced our fifth hole,
(the 14th, we started on the back) his crisp 8-iron landing perfectly in the
fringe, then slowly tumbling end-over-end towards the cup. Thirty-seven years
of membership will tell you something about a golf course, but shots like these
don’t hit themselves.
The conversation turned to El Niguel Country Club, where Richardson’s
father John was a founding member. Both of their names are engraved numerous
times on the club championship trophy, and the two even met in the finals one
year (Kemp won). When Kemp won the US Senior Amateur for the first time in
2001, he and his father became the first father-son combination to win a USGA
Championship; John having won in 1987 at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania. The
elder Richardson has passed away, but memories of their time together at El
Niguel are an obvious part of Kemp’s strolls down the narrow fairways.
”You have to enjoy your home club, and I really like playing here,” said
Richardson, who lives on the 11th fairway.
El Niguel is a pleasant place to spend time, and the walkable layout flows
exceptionally well, especially when you consider that it started as a 9-hole
course with the second nine added later. Richardson still plays the back tees
and says the 7000 yard course should be lengthened a bit. (What would you expect
from a guy who hits all the par-5’s in two and drives the ball 280 yards
or more consistently?) The well-treed layout demands an accurate tee ball,
and errant iron shots often lead to short-sided bogeys on the tricky poa annua
greens. Many years at El Niguel have honed Richardson’s driving and shotmaking,
just as Johnny Miller’s legendary iron play was developed on the hilly,
wet fairways of San Francisco’s Olympic Club.
I hit my best drive of the day on No. 16, and Kemp wound up
ten yards behind me on the reachable par-5. The difference in our games became
obvious when he hit a high, fading 3-wood pin high from 240 yards out – then
goaded me (“are you going for it?”) into trying the same. My 3-wood
was a low fade into the right bunker, but I managed to match Kemp’s birdie
by sinking a bomb of a putt. My flash in the pan was over, but his best was
yet to come.
Friel later told me that just over a month ago, Richardson missed just one
fairway, and hit all 18 greens in posting an “easy” 66.
”They’re just better,” said Richardson, matter-of-factly, in
describing Champions Tour players. “It’s that simple.”
Richardson enjoys the competition but isn’t in the business of counting
victories and achievements. For the record, he has competed in between 20 and
25 USGA events, and finished low amateur twice in the US Senior Open over the
course of his career, which has also included a fine college record at USC that
included two Pac-10 individual titles. He has won the British Senior
Amateur twice; in 2001 he had the rare distinction of holding both the US and
British senior titles at the same time. Richardson calls his putting
his weakness, but admits that it can be streaky good.
”I three putted six times in the second round of qualifying at Victoria
National, but I’m feeling better over it today,” said Richardson. “I
mostly hit the ball pretty well,” added the 2006 Canadian Senior Match
Play champ (the third country he has won a senior championship in, by the way).
Richardson made the turn in 1-under-par 35, suffered a three putt bogey on the
1st (our 10th) then birdied 5 of the next 7 holes and could have easily posted
a 32 if not for a tee shot that we lost in the left rough on No. 7. So much for
a balky putter.
The card said 69, my wallet said “fork over $20 and be happy about it,” and
I drove out of the parking lot behind Richardson, until he took a right turn
200 yards down the road and was probably home before I made it to the 5 freeway.