FT. WORTH, Texas (Sept. 20, 2008) – Howie Knodt, 55, of Chula Vista, Calif., shot a 3-under 68 to hold a one-stroke lead following Saturday’s first round of stroke play at the 2008 USGA Senior Amateur Championship, being played at the par-71, 6,597-yard Shady Oaks Country Club.
In his first-ever USGA championship, the U.S. Mid-Amateur earlier this month, Knodt came as close as one can to advancing to match play without actually making it.
After posting a 7-over 147 at Milwaukee Country Club and Brown Deer Park in River Hills, Wis., Knodt wound up in a 19-for-14 playoff to determine the final match-play spots. Two bogeys later he was on his way home.
“The biggest thing I learned from the Mid-Am was not so much in my play but more in the way I managed my time,” said Knodt. “I actually wound up getting tired, so by the time I got to that playoff, I was pretty beat up.”
Hoping to avoid a similar fate at the Senior Amateur this week, Knodt got off to a great start Saturday.
“I like the golf course,” said Knodt of playing at the club best known as the home of four-time U.S. Open champion Ben Hogan. “I like the way it sets up for me. I really like the greens. They’re really similar to what I’m used to playing. I just felt pretty comfortable.”
Even after making double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole, the 13th of his round, when he hit a tree and had a ball wind up buried in a bunker, Knodt came back to birdie three of his next four. He finished with six birdies, one bogey and the double bogey.
“I think I was able to really manage the ball well,” said Knodt. “I was able to cut it when I needed to, draw it when I needed to, and get it in the right position on the greens so I had a lot of good putts. And the yardage is so much more forgiving than the Mid-Am was.”
The 68 left Knodt one stroke ahead of 1986 U.S. Amateur champion Stewart “Buddy” Alexander, 55, of Gainesville, Fla., Dave Denezza, 61, of Greensburg, Pa., and Tom Doughtie, 55, of Amarillo, Texas.
Alexander, the head coach of the men’s golf team at the University of Florida, doesn’t play much competitive golf but didn’t see that as a negative coming into this week’s championship.
“It’s a little bit like riding a bike,” said Alexander. “If you manage to hit enough balls to feel comfortable about your game, the competition part (comes back). I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve never played a heavy schedule, even after winning the Amateur, usually just five or six events a year.”
Bruce Meyer of El Paso, Texas, Steve Welker, 57, of Maricopa, Ariz., and 2004 Senior Amateur stroke-play medalist Ron Vannelli, 60, of Edison, N.J., stood two strokes behind the leader after posting 1-under 70s on a hot day at Shady Oaks.
Defending champion Stan Lee, 56, of Heber Springs, Ark., opened with a 1-over 72. Lee is trying to become the first to win consecutive championships since William Campbell won back-to-back Senior Amateurs in 1979-80.
"I'm darn proud of it," said Lee of his opening round Saturday. "I'm just trying to get past these 36 holes."
After a second day of stroke play Sunday, the USGA Senior Amateur field will be reduced to 64 players for match play. The first round of match play is scheduled for Monday, the second and third rounds will be played Tuesday, the quarterfinal and semifinal matches are on Wednesday, and the 18-hole championship final will be played Thursday.
The USGA Senior Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
--Story written by Beth Murrison, USGA