RICHMOND, VA (Sept. 25, 2010) –– Amateur Keith Decker owns nearly every significant amateur golf title in the commonwealth. It didn’t take long for the 50-year-old Martinsville resident to add another in his debut appearance at the Senior Open of Virginia.
Decker drained a 4-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th, to outlast Virginia amateur legend Vinny Giles (Richmond) to win the fifth renewal of the championship on Friday at The Country Club of Virginia’s James River Course.
Decker (pictured left) and Giles both finished at 3-under-par 141. Decker closed even-par 72, and saved his best for last, playing the 18th hole in three under par the last two times he toured the par 5. A longtime CCV member, the 67-year-old Giles wielded a hot putter in authoring a masterful 5-under 31 on the outward half before settling for 3-under-par 69, the second lowest score of the final round.
Jon Corliss, the 2008 Senior Open champion and a PGA professional at Heron Ridge Golf Club in Virginia Beach, posted consecutive rounds of 1-under 71, and took home low professional accolades.
Ultimately, though, the stage belonged to Decker and Giles, two of the most dominant amateurs in the commonwealth dating back the days when Giles began collecting the first of his record seven Virginia State Golf Association State Amateur titles in the early 1960s. Decker has consistently been the top-ranked amateur in the commonwealth since 2001 and been named VSGA golfer of the year a record seven times.
The reigning USGA Senior Amateur champion, Giles vaulted right into contention by reeling off three straight birdies at Nos. 3-5. He holed a 30-footer from the fringe to start the surge before knocking in putts of 2 and 7 feet, respectively at Nos. 4 and 5. Giles continued to show a deft touch on CCV’s slick putting surfaces, stroking home a 40-footer at the par-3 eighth hole before draining a downhill 12-footer at the par-5 ninth.
Giles (pictured right), who said later his goal was to shoot his age after turning in five under, couldn’t come up with another birdie. He made bogey at the par-4 14th and, with many other spectators, watched incredulously as his approach at the par-5 16th hit on the green, but somehow took a left turn and spun off the putting surface, resulting in a bogey.
On the inward half, Decker had it to four under for the championship after a nice birdie at 14, but dropped to one under following a double bogey at No. 15 and a three-putt bogey at 17.
Trailing Giles’ by two strokes heading to the par-5 finishing hole, Decker detonated a tee shot that left him a 176-yard 8-iron second shot. His approach landed in the middle of the green, found a swale and stopped 4 feet above the hole and he sunk the slippery eagle putt to force extra holes.
“I didn’t have anything to lose. I had to go for it, so I’m pleased that it worked out,” Decker said. “I didn’t leave anything on the tee. Then I hit it [the 8-iron] as flush as I could hit it and hit it in right in the exact spot I wanted to.”
Even with the outcome still in doubt, the two friends and competitors couldn’t resist some playful joking prior to the start of extra holes.
“Wait a minute, he’s 12 and I’m 86,” quipped Giles with a smile, “so maybe we can just tie for it.”
“But he might’ve played here a few more times,” Decker countered with a laugh.
Decker seemingly owned the 18th hole in the final day. On the first extra hole, he carved a 6-iron out of the rough from 200 yards and again hit the putting surface in two with his ball coming to rest 28 feet right of the hole. Giles blocked his second shot to the right, and obstructed by a tree, did well to play his third into the greenside bunker, before blasting out and making a 6-footer for par.
As he has so many times over the past 10 years, Decker holed a clutch putt to win, this time draining a 4-foot birdie chance. With the triumph, Decker collected his 18th “major” title in the commonwealth.
“I had some pressure on me playing in this [championship] – being 50, being one of the favorites and that sort of thing,” said Decker, who took home to Harry W. Easterly Jr. Trophy, honoring the late VSGA and USGA president. “I put a little bit more pressure on myself. It feels great to play this golf course and win in a playoff. Vinny’s my hero, so this means a lot to me.”
Giles appears stoked to defend his title at the USGA Senior Amateur at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 2-7.
“For an old, beat up 67-year-old body, I felt lucky to be able to play this well,” smiled Giles, who won the senior division of the Crump Cup two weeks ago at the acclaimed Pine Valley Golf Club (N.J.). “It was encouraging. I’m not unhappy at all. It was one of the better rounds I’ve played with a pencil in my hand. I’m playing pretty well and hope I can keep playing solidly. I feel as good as I’ve felt in a long time.”
View results for Senior Open of Virginia Golf Championship