Chip Lutz (left) and Tom Brandes (USGA photos)
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Chip Lutz, 60, of Reading, Pa., and Tom Brandes, 59, of Bellevue, Wash., each won two matches Wednesday to advance to the championship match of the 61st U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Hidden Creek Golf Club.
Lutz defeated two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, 56, of Germantown, Tenn., 1 up, while Brandes outlasted Steven Liebler, 56, of Irmo, S.C., in 21 holes in the afternoon semifinals.
In the quarterfinals on Wednesday morning, Lutz rolled to a 4-and-2 victory over medalist and 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randal Lewis, sending him to his fourth U.S. Senior Amateur semifinal.
Lutz had not advanced past the semifinals in his three previous tries, in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
“Chip is really solid, and I knew I would have to play really well to beat him,” said Lewis, who is heading to the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Johns Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla., which starts Saturday. “My iron play was not that good, and some of them were from the middle of the fairway. On 14 and 15, I hit good iron shots, but I got the reads totally wrong. You can’t do that and win.”
In the afternoon semifinals, which were suspended for 35 minutes at 1:24 p.m. due to a dangerous weather situation, Lutz forged a 3-up lead with a birdie on No. 7. The next five holes were halved, with Jackson missing a couple of makeable birdie tries to cut into the lead. Jackson finally got one to drop on No. 13, and on No. 16, he closed within one hole thanks to a routine par as Lutz was making double bogey following a wayward tee shot.
“I knew what I had to do to try to get over those three semifinal losses, and that was significant trying to get by that,” said Lutz who won back-to-back titles in both the 2011 and 2012 Canadian Senior Amateur and the Seniors Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A. “You know, just hung in there, tried to stay calm and breathe and try to play my game and stay in the moment.”
On No. 17, Lutz bladed his approach from 80 yards, but it stayed on the back of the green, nearly 70 feet from the hole. He managed to two-putt after Jackson missed his 18-foot birdie try from the front edge of the green.
“That was significant, a clutch two-putt for me,” said Lutz, who is closing in on his sixth consecutive Golf Association of Philadelphia Player of the Year title. “I managed to make about a 2½-foot comeback putt.”
On the 425-yard, par-4 18th, both players pulled their tee shots into the left rough, but they both made outstanding approach shots. Lutz hit a 5-iron onto the green, 25 feet above the hole, and Jackson topped him with a 6-iron to 10 feet. After Lutz barely missed a clinching birdie, Jackson slid his tying effort past the hole on the low side.
“I just didn’t give it enough break,” said Jackson, who was a USA Walker Cup Team member in 1995 and 1999. “That’s been my deal all day – just a fraction off.”
Jackson lamented his two opening bogeys.
“At this level, everybody is good, and you can’t fall asleep,” said Jackson. “I fell asleep on that front side, and that cost me the match.”
Brandes, who defeated Patrick Murphy, 5 and 4, in the quarterfinal found, himself 2 down early in the semifinal to Liebler after bogeying Nos. 2 and 5. Both players parred the next three holes, including a missed 3-foot birdie opportunity for Liebler on No. 8, which would have extended his lead.
“I played solid,” said Liebler, a former PGA Tour player and two-time South Carolina Golf Association Player of the Year. “In 21 holes I made 20 pars and one bogey, and it's just one bogey too many. I had a chance, I thought, to really kind of take advantage of the match on the eighth hole after he'd already made par, and I didn't make it, and I think that was the turning point in the match. He played solid after that.”
On the ninth hole, Brandes took advantage of a solid approach shot that set him up with a 4-foot birdie putt, which he drained to cut Liebler’s lead to 1 up. The match went all square on No. 13 when Liebler counted his only bogey of the day, a mistake that would ultimately send the match to 21 holes, where Brandes clinched the win by chipping to a 1-foot conceded birdie on the 507-yard par 5.
“I said, you know what, I'm going to win or lose this thing right now, so that's why I hit 3-wood [on the 21st hole],” said Brandes, a Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of Fame member and runner-up in the 2013 Seniors Amateur, conducted by The R&A. “I had 210 [yards] to cover, and after that I didn't worry about it. I was just looking at that cover number, and a little hurt wind, so I knew I could take 3-wood and get it. But yeah, that could have been the thing, and I would have shaken Steve's hands.”
Instead, it will be an East Coast vs. West Coast final, with Brandes facing Lutz tomorrow at 7:15 a.m.
Both finalists are exempt from qualifying for next year’s U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Open. The champion receives a 10-year U.S. Senior Amateur exemption, an exemption from local qualifying for next year’s U.S. Open, an exemption for the 2015 and 2016 U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur and custody of the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship Trophy for one year. The runner-up receives a three-year U.S. Senior Amateur exemption.
Wednesday’s semifinal losers are exempt for the next two U.S. Senior Amateurs.
The U.S. Senior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play, after which the field is reduced to the low 64 scorers for six rounds of match play. The championship, which is open to amateurs who have reached their 55th birthday by Sept. 26, 2015, and have a Handicap Index not exceeding 7.4, concludes with an 18-hole final on Thursday, starting at 7:15 a.m. EDT.