By Arthur Utley
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Aug. 30, 2013) –– Keith Decker of Martinsville added another title to his long list of accomplishments with a 3-and- 2 victory over Col. James Gallagher (Ret.) of Yorktown Friday in the Virginia State Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship final at Farmington Country Club.
Decker, 53, has now won 21 VSGA championships. The last two, including the Senior Stroke Play earlier this year, have been senior events. He became eligible this year when the VSGA changed its age requirement for seniors from 55 to 50.
He owns a third senior trophy, the Senior Open of Virginia, which he won shortly after turning 50 in 2010. The age requirement for the Senior Open always has been 50.
“It’s never easy to win anything, anywhere. Two hundred and some guys started out (in the VSGA Senior) so I’m honored to be on top. There’s a lot of great names [on the trophy],” Decker said. “I won’t ever forget playing against Vinny [Giles in the quarterfinals]. I’d never played him. I’ll cherish that from now on. I wound up winning the match. He had the upper hand so I guess I’m sort of lucky to be here, but it all worked out.”
Decker dedicated the victory to a friend, A.J. Lambert, whose funeral was Friday morning, and that’s what he was thinking about after the H.M. ‘Bunny’ Blankinship Trophy presentation.
“He would have loved this,” Decker said. “He would have been out following the match. I hate I’m not there, but I talked to his best friend and told him A.J. would want me here as opposed to being there, and he’s cheering for me.”
Gallagher, who turns 55 Saturday and was also a first-time participant in the VSGA Senior, didn’t win a hole in the match. Decker won the second hole with a par, the fifth with a conceded birdie and No. 14 with a par.
“You can’t make a mistake against Keith Decker. He’s just a great player,” Gallagher said.
Putting had been a strength throughout the championship for Gallagher, but it turned to stone Friday.
“I had five putts that would have changed the match. I left four putts absolutely dead on line an inch short or less,” Gallagher said. “The putting wasn’t there.”
Decker knew he was the beneficiary.
“A couple of putts here or there, this whole match swings,” he said. “I played steadily. I didn’t hit the ball well. I did starting out, but I didn’t finishing up. I got away with them because I hit them in the right spots.”
Said Gallagher, who will compete in the upcoming USGA Senior Amateur: “I had as hot a putter against Bill Engel [in the semifinals] as I had a cold putter today. I would gladly have split up a few of those putts. I’m pleased to have gotten here. I would have loved to have won, but I knew it was going to be a tough match.”
Decker and Gallagher were dinner companions for the fifth night in a row before the final. Gallagher varied his menu choices. Decker stuck with prime rib each night.
“I could have ordered for him,” Gallagher said.
Decker’s VSGA title count of 21 includes a victory at the Senior Amateur, Senior Open of Virginia and the Senior Stroke Play, as well as collecting multiple triumphs at the VSGA Mid-Amateur (seven wins), the VSGA Four-Ball (six wins), the State Open of Virginia (three wins) and the VSGA Amateur Championship (two wins).
Both had high praise for the Farmington staff and the venerable, 6,297-yard, par-70 layout.
“I can’t say enough good things about my experience here. The first time I was here, it was through the eyes of a child (as a 9-year-old),” Gallagher said, “and to come back and see it as an adult having blossomed into the great club that it is was a rich and rewarding experience.”
Decker has won the annual Kenridge Invitational (conducted at Farmington) six times, and Farmington will be the host site for the 2015 VSGA Amateur Championship.
“This is the nicest place in Virginia in my opinion. I love coming here. The people are great. The golf course is awesome. It suits my game, and it’s always in great shape,” Decker said. “There’s always great competition here. And, I have my special parking place.”
He isn’t telling anyone where it is.