Virginia Senior Stroke Play: Isaacs in playoff

AMHERST, VA (May 28, 2008)--Richmond’s Steve Isaacs made par on the first extra hole, the par-4 10th, to outlast fellow central Virginian Ward Hamilton (Manakin-Sabot) and claim the 23rd Virginia State Golf Association Senior Stroke Play Championship, which concluded today at Poplar Grove Golf Club (6,414 yards for ages 55-64, 5,817 yards for super seniors ages 65-and-over, par 36-36—72).

Isaacs closed with 3-over 75, while Hamilton shot a final round-best 1-under 71 and both competitors finished at 4-over-par 148 to force extra holes. With the victory, Isaacs claimed his second VSGA senior event of the season in as many starts; the 60-year-old Richmond-based attorney also won the VSGA Senior Four-Ball Championship earlier this month with Leesburg’s Dayton Slater, triumphing on the first extra hole at Irvington’s King Carter Golf Club.

Isaacs, who opened with 1-over 73, began the day three back of first round leader Walt Martin (Oakton), who opened with a championship-best 2-under 70. In final day action, Isaacs made up four shots on the first five holes on his playing partner to take a one-shot lead. He capped the early surge by knocking a mid-iron approach to 4 feet for birdie at the par-4 fifth hole.

Martin sunk a 12-footer at the par-3 seventh to tie his fellow-competitor at one over for the championship, but was one back at the turn after bogeying the par-4 eighth. Martin would respond, however, by knocking in a downhill 9-footer for par at No. 9 and matched Isaacs’ lead at two over by making a five-footer for par at No. 10.

They remained deadlocked after Isaacs made a 12-footer for par at the par-3 13th; his tee shot nearly found the bunker guarding the left side of the green and his feet were well below the ball on his second shot.

The significance of the par putt was not lost on Martin.

“That was a big deal,” he said. “That was a really good putt.”

In an important turn of events on the back nine, Martin’s bid from 4 feet to take the lead at No. 14 came up a roll short.

“It looked to me like it was a downhill putt,” said Martin, a retired Navy captain. “I just decelerated on it.”

Playing steadily the entire round, Isaacs, who only missed two fairways, churned out six consecutive pars from Nos. 11-16 and after Martin made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16, Isaacs owned a two-shot lead with two holes to play over his fellow-competitor as well as Hamilton.

Isaacs focused on a swing thought that he discovered during opening round action.

“I found something in the first round [Tuesday] and it felt good. I just kept using it,” said Isaacs, a member of the VSGA board of directors. “I felt like I was staying behind the ball and releasing the club and I could release it without any fear that it would go left. I just felt like I could really swing the club and hit it solid and that’s what I did. Just about every time I looked up the ball was going right where I was aiming and it was pretty long.”

But on the demanding closing stretch, Isaacs found the left greenside bunker at the par-3 17th and came up short on a 10-foot par-saver to drop his lead to one stroke over Hamilton. Martin also made bogey at No. 17 after his tee shot, which was right on line, half buried in the front greenside bunker.

At the par-4 18th, Isaacs’ second shot came to rest in the fringe left of the green, 10 feet off the green. His 12-foot par putt didn’t quite have enough pace and he made bogey to force extra holes.

Hamilton, playing six groups ahead of the final grouping, made three birdies on the inward nine at Nos. 11, 14 and 16 to climb up the leaderboard. Meanwhile, Martin, who closed with 79, finished a shot out of extra holes, along with Tazewell’s Charles E. Green III (73), Marshall’s Tom Grady (74), Van McCarter of Blue Ridge (74) and Richmond’s Stan Fischer (75).

On the first extra hole, Isaacs found the middle of the fairway with his drive and laced his 8-iron second from 139 yards to 18 feet in back of the flagstick. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s approach from 133 yards went through the green to the right and, with grass between his club and the ball, his chip came out a bit soft and he missed on a 10-footer for par.

“The ball came out a little mushy,” said Hamilton, a member at The Dominion Club in Glen Allen.

Isaacs nearly drained his birdie putt and tapped in for the title. A strong ball striking round helped him claim the Corbette King Trophy, awarded to the event’s champion.

“You have to hit fairways here,” said Isaacs, who admits that he plays better on demanding golf courses like Poplar Grove, where no competitor finished with a 36-hole aggregate of par or better. “If you don’t, you don’t have much of a chance of hitting the green.”

It has been a month and a year full of memories to cherish for Isaacs, who watched his son, Kevin, capture the state wrestling crown among private school students in the 152-pound weight class in February. His son, also the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship from the VSGA Scholarship Program of the Virginia Golf Foundation, will graduate from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond on Monday.

“But I’ve got him now,” Isaacs grinned. “I walked in his bedroom the other day and I said, ‘Kevin, you know you’ve won the state championship.’ I took him the VSGA Yearbook and Media Guide (contains VSGA records). I said, ‘Look right there. In 1968, I won the Virginia Intercollegiate [Golf Championship],' so we both have a state championship. Now, I’m up on him, two to one.”

Joking aside, even his second VSGA championship of the year admittedly doesn’t diminish the enduring memory of seeing his son capture the wrestling title.

“What made my year was watching him win the state championship in wrestling. That made me a very proud father.”

Isaacs counts himself fortunate on the course and off. Three years ago at this time he was battling throat cancer and was in the process of undergoing six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.

“I was thinking about that today,” Isaacs said. “I’ve been given this great opportunity. I just thought, ‘Enjoy it. Don’t worry about winning or losing.’ Three years ago if you would have told me that I would have this opportunity, I wouldn’t have believed you, because I was trying to get from one day to the next. That was tough.

“At the same time, it made golf seem somewhat relative compared to the life and death situation I was in. I’m fine now. Everything is great.”

Though he hadn’t planned on competing in the VSGA Senior Amateur at The Homestead’s Cascades Course in late-August, Isaacs has a chance at a “senior slam,” having won the first two VSGA senior events of the season.

“We’ll wait and see,” Isaacs said.

Meanwhile, in the Stableford division (ages 65-and-over), New Market’s Bob Moyers, who shared the first round lead, took home top honors with 67 points. Richmond’s Walter Anderson had 61 points to capture the Stableford 65-69 age division, while Portsmouth’s Murray Rudisill got second low gross in the 70-and-over bracket with 61 points.

--Courtesy VSGA

ABOUT THE VSGA Senior Stroke Play

36-hole stroke play competition (18 holes per day). Age groups will be 50-54, 55-59 and 60-and-over. All players will compete from the same set of tees. Open to VSGA members at least 50 years of age holding an active GHIN number issued by a licensed VSGA Member Club in good standing.

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