RICHMOND, VA (September 23, 2016) -- Ricky Touma purposely kept himself in the dark for much of his round. Not literally, mind you. There was little in the way of shade on a brilliant, sun-splashed Friday afternoon at the Country Club of Virginia’s Westhampton Course. Touma, though, avoided any peeks at the leaderboard. The only time he wanted to know where he stood? On No. 18, when he was going over his options for a tricky birdie putt.
He missed that putt by mere inches and tapped in for a bogey-free 65 in the second and final round of the 11th Senior Open of Virginia. He then had to sweat out defending champion Dave Pulk’s final hole. When Pulk’s long birdie putt came up short, the championship went to Touma.
Touma, a PGA professional at Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md., tied for the lowest round in tournament history and posted a two-day 135 to win the title by a stroke. And in a year filled with wins and accomplishments, this one stood out, he said.
“To win a state open, it’s at the top for me,” said Touma, who leads the Omega MAPGA Senior Player Rankings. “I’ve been fortunate enough to qualify for two [U.S.] Senior Opens. But winning this tournament, I put that at the top, for sure.”
Touma broke the tie between professionals and amateurs at the championship, as he became the sixth professional in the event’s 11 years to win. He also became the first professional since Rick Schuller in 2013 to win. Touma denied chance a Pulk at history, as no one has ever repeated as Senior Open of Virginia champion, nor has anyone won multiple titles.
Pulk (Two Rivers CC) followed his opening-round 68 with another 68 to finish at 136.
“I didn’t make enough birdies,” said Pulk, who had three birdies and a bogey. “When you shoot 65 and you’re around the lead, you deserve to win.”
Brendan McGrath, the 18-hole leader, posted an even-par 70 and finished alone in third at 137. Jim Gallagher (Tidewater Amateur Golf Tour) and professional Rob McNamara (Farmington CC) tied for fourth at 139.
Touma was in the penultimate group and played a hole ahead of Pulk all day. Pulk had a huge opportunity to close the gap on No. 17, when he just missed a 15 footer for birdie that would have moved him into a tie.
“I made a really good putt on 17, and I thought it was going in,” Pulk said. “It just stopped breaking and just burned the left lip.”
Touma, who was incredibly steady over the tournament’s two days – he missed just four greens and two fairways in 36 holes – was sharp again on the par-5 18th. He reached the green in regulation and had about 20 feet left for a birdie.
“I kind of had a putt I could be aggressive on, or not, so that’s kind of why I asked where I stood before I putted,” Touma said. “It gave me the feel of how I wanted to hit the putt.”
Touma, of course, two putted for par, leaving Pulk some hope. Pulk’s second shot ended up short of the green in a drainage area, leaving him an awkward lie to get up to the green.
“I was about 35 yards from the green, but it was like hitting a baseball shot with a sand wedge out of the deep rough,” Pulk said. “It was kind of guesswork in how it was going to come out. It was close, but it didn’t quite have enough. And then it was disappointing not to make a better birdie putt on the last hole.
“But Ricky shot a 65. That’s a great round of golf. I just couldn’t catch him today.”
Touma, who is in his 17th year at Burning Tree, is a former mini-tour player who got one opportunity to play in a PGA Tour event (the 2004 Booz Allen Classic at TPC Avenel) and played in seven Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour events. He found teaching was the right life for him, though. That made this week’s win even more special.
“I’m so blessed to be at Burning Tree,” he said. “It’s such a special place, and the members are so supportive of me. They love to see me play. … I don’t play any casual golf. I played 27 holes at my club this year. I either play in tournaments or I don’t play. So this was right place, right time.”
View results for Senior Open of Virginia Golf Championship