HOT SPRINGS, VA (August 25, 2016) -- For the second straight day, Rich Buckner found himself back at the front desk at the Omni Homestead Resort, checking into the hotel for one more night.
One finalist at the 69th VSGA Senior Amateur Championship, held at the Homestead’s Cascades Course, didn’t necessarily expect to be in town for the duration of the week. The other? Well, let’s just say he’s been here a time or two before.
Buckner (Robert Trent Jones GC), the 18th seed in the 32-man match-play portion of the tournament, will meet stroke-play medalist and two-time Senior Amateur champion Keith Decker (Chatmoss CC, Martinsville) in Friday’s 18-hole championship match, which is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m EST.
To get to the final, Buckner had to knock out one of the state’s most decorated players on Thursday, Virginia Golf Hall of Famer and past U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur champion Vinny Giles (Kinloch GC, Richmond). Buckner defeated Giles 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals Thursday morning before taking out Leon Roday (Kinloch GC, Henrico) 3 and 2 in the semifinals.
“This morning was a lot of fun,” Buckner said. “Getting to play the legend, it was pretty neat.
“I mean, I have been playing well, my last few tournaments. And I have a swing that I can count on, and I’ve stuck with it. I’ve had one bad day, and it was the second day of stroke play, when it didn’t matter because I still made it [to match play].”
Buckner, an investment banker from Clifton, will have to get past another stalwart of the VSGA amateur scene if he wants to win his first VSGA championship. Decker has won 26 titles in his VSGA career, ranging from the State Open of Virginia to the VSGA Amateur and the Senior Open of Virginia, plus a cadre of Four-Ball titles.
Decker will be looking for his third Senior Amateur title in the last four years. And though he didn’t win last year, he was the stroke-play medalist.
Decker yet to have played past the 15th hole in this year’s match play, his closest match thus far a 5-and-3 victory over another past champion, David Partridge (Hermitage CC, Manakin), in the quarterfinals. Decker rolled past 2015 Senior Open of Virginia champion Dave Pulk (Two Rivers CC, Williamsburg) 6 and 5 in the semifinals.
“I made key putts when I needed to make them,” Decker said. “And my opponents sometimes didn’t make it too tough on me. It was a combination of both.”
The lopsided semifinal result was a combination of Decker’s steady play and Pulk’s inability to keep the ball in the fairway late in the match. A perfect example was on No. 10, when Decker’s drive settled in the fairway. Pulk pulled his right, and it ended up right of a hazard line under a fence post. Because the ball was inside the hazard, Pulk did not receive free relief from the obstruction. From his knees, he tried to putt the ball back into the fairway, but it took three attempts to do so. He eventually conceded the hole.
“I made three or four bad swings which took me out of a hole,” Pulk said. “You can’t give somebody like Keith Decker three or four holes where your drive is just out of play. There were a couple of instances where there was a buried lie in a bunker. It just snowballed.”
If there was an upside for Pulk, it was simply reaching the semifinal round. He missed more than half of the year while recovering from a back issue. He was able to make it out of four days of play at The Homestead without any real setbacks, and he expects to defend his Senior Open title next month in Richmond at the Country Club of Virginia.
Pulk defeated Scott Reisenweaver (Salisbury CC, Midlothian) 3 and 1 in the quarterfinals.
Roday knocked off Mark Alonzi (Stonehenge G&CC, Richmond) in the quarterfinals before running into Buckner. Roday, who entered the tournament No. 2 in VSGA Senior Player Rankings points, made his deepest run yet in the Senior Amateur.
“Rich played very well, and he deserved to win,” Roday said. “I wish I could have played a little better to give him a tougher challenge. It’s always a pleasure to advance in a tournament like this. It’s a great tournament that has a great tradition. To be a semifinalist is great. Hopefully next year, I’ll go farther.”
Buckner, 51, is the underdog against the 56-year-old Decker, but that hasn’t deterred Buckner from finding success all week. In addition to Giles and Roday, he beat the tournament’s No. 2 seed, Jon Zampedro, in match play.
“I feel confident,” Buckner said. “I hope it’ll be a good match. Hopefully, I’ll give him a run for his money.”
View results for Virginia Senior Amateur Golf Championship