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Virginia Senior: McDonald Wins on 18th

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (August 28, 2009)--Williamsburg’s Mike McDonald drained a right to left breaking 8-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to post a 1-up victory over fellow 58-year-old Greg Thomas (Virginia Beach) to win the 62nd Virginia State Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship, which concluded today at Princess Anne Country Club (5,968 yards, par 35-35—70).

Competing in the championship for the first time, McDonald picked up his first VSGA victory. The No. 21-seeded McDonald bested three of the top five seeds in match play, including the third-seeded Thomas in the deciding match. He also ousted two of the four co-medalists in his final two encounters in the event, having defeated top-seeded Stan Fischer (Richmond) in Thursday’s semifinals.

“Anytime you’re past the mid-point in the seeds, it provides a little bit of motivation, but once match play starts, you can pretty much throw the seeds out the window,” said McDonald (pictured right accepting the H.M. Blankinship Trophy from VSGA board member Karl Quinn).

He paused for a moment. “I wouldn’t pick a No. 21 seed in the NCAA [men’s basketball] pool though.”

Following a sloppy start to the match, a nine-hole stretch from Nos. 3-11 featured a win by one of the finalists. Neither player held more than a 1-up lead through the first eight holes. Thomas squared the match by curling in a 10-footer for a birdie-2 at the par-3 seventh hole.

A solid all-around player, McDonald answered to build a 3-up advantage by winning Nos. 8-10, playing that three-hole stretch in two under par. Relying on sound ball-striking, he won No. 8 with a par, drained a downhill 9-footer for birdie at No. 9 and completed the mid-match surge by playing a wedge third shot to 10 inches for birdie at the par-5 10th hole.

Thomas, wearing red plus-four trousers that he’s adopted as his trademark, charged back on the second nine, claiming three of five holes from Nos. 11-15 as his opponent’s play sputtered around the greens. Playing the steady golf required of a championship final, Thomas took No. 11 with a two-putt par. He then won No. 14 after getting up and down from the left greenside bunker for an eventual par and squared the match for the first time since the seventh hole with a par at the par-4 15th hole.

McDonald earned an important halve at the demanding par-3 17th, playing a delicate chip from 15 feet short of the green to 3 feet.

In the back and forth match in which only five holes were halved the entire way, appropriately, the match came down to the par-5 finishing hole. There, Thomas played a wedge third shot to 15 feet left of the cup, while McDonald played his short iron approach to an ideal spot right of the flagstick leaving him an uphill putt.

After Thomas’s birdie chance went narrowly past the left side of the hole, McDonald sealed the victory, calmly stroking home his birdie putt that tumbled right in the center of the cup as he swung his arm in the air.

In the final, McDonald hit all 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens. Though he battled to gauge the undulating greens at times, he converted the putt he needed when it counted the most at the last.

“I missed a lot of putts all day,” McDonald said. “It wasn’t a tough putt and I knew I could make it, but in the back of your mind, you think, ‘I can miss it as well.’ I was gratified that I put a good stroke on it.”

Thomas had no doubts that his opponent was going to hole the pressure putt.

“I knew he was going to make it,” he said. “After we hit our third shots, I looked at a friend and told him, ‘First in wins.’ I gave mine a little too much ‘hit.’ ”

A retired marketing vice president for a military contractor, McDonald spent 49 years in Iowa and went to work in Washington, D.C., in 1999 before moving to Williamsburg in 2007. He played a regular championship schedule while in the Midwest but the VSGA member at Ford’s Colony Country Club admits “this is probably the biggest win I’ve had.”

Thomas, who spent 28 years in the Navy and now serves in the intelligence field, played steadily the whole week and his previous four matches leading up to the final hadn’t been extended to the 18th hole.

“I’m very happy with the way I played all week,” said Thomas, a VSGA member at military course Aeropines Golf Course in Virginia Beach. “I hit the ball well, but as every golfer says, ‘I could’ve made more putts.’ ”

The mood was friendly and the conversation constant throughout the entire championship match. McDonald joked with his opponent heading to the 18th tee that he’d scored something of a moral victory by pushing him to the final hole.

“That was my goal starting out,” McDonald said afterward. “I thought, ‘Geez, if I could just get him past [No.] 16, I might have a chance, because he’s been beating everybody pretty easily.’ ”

McDonald admittedly found a fit at Princess Anne, which welcomed the championship for the first time.

“It’s fun to come to a place where the people appreciate you playing a great course,” he said.

VIRGINIA BEACH –– Result from the final round of match play at the 62nd VSGA Senior Amateur Championship at Princess Anne Country Club (5,968 yards, par 35-35—70) on Friday, Aug. 28 (stroke play qualifying score indicated).

(21) Mike McDonald (Williamsburg), 148 def. (3) Greg Thomas (Virginia Beach), 142, 1 up
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