HOT SPRINGS, VA (August 26, 2016) -- Keith Decker finished off David Partridge on the 15th green in the quarterfinals of the 69th VSGA Senior Amateur on Thursday morning. When Partridge asked if Decker was heading back to the clubhouse, Decker said he was heading out to play the final three holes at the Omni Homestead Resort’s Cascades Course.
The practice, it turned out, was totally unnecessary. Decker never played past the 15th green in any of his five matches this week, and Friday morning’s championship match was no exception. He jumped on opponent Rich Buckner (Robert Trent Jones GC, Clifton) late in the front nine and cruised to a 6 and 5 victory. For Decker (Chatmoss CC, Martinsville), the win was his third in the last four years in the Senior Amateur and his 27th overall in VSGA championships.
“You try not to think about it. You just keep on playing,” said Decker, whose name will be engraved on the H.M. Bunny Blankinship Trophy once again. “I love playing in the state events. All of the state events are run first class. Every other golf association in the country is a little jealous of the VSGA. They do such a good job. They’re so organized, such great coordination. When people hear about it, they’re a little jealous. We’re pretty lucky.”
Decker’s win was the most lopsided in the championship in 37 years, the last 6 and 5 victory coming in 1979 when Burr Melvin beat Bill Robertson. Friday’s victory followed a familiar script: Play steady, and let the other guy fall apart.
“That’s a good way to play match play, let the other guys make mistakes,” Decker said. “Earlier in the week, I had some good birdies and strung together some good runs there. But the last couple, I just sort of played fairly steady, nothing spectacular, and it worked out.”
Decker, 56, made one birdie and hit just five out of 10 fairways Friday. But his steady, around-par play was enough to put the 51-year-old Buckner on his heels. Decker’s par on the par-4 2nd hole might have been his most impressive result of the day.
After the players halved the first hole, Decker’s drive on No. 2 went way left, into the straw to the left of a massive tree. Undaunted, Decker hit a terrific shot to keep himself in the hole.
“Worst drive I hit all week,” Decker said. “But I had a little bit of an opening, and it was the best shot I hit the whole tournament. It went on the green. It was 215 yards away. Yeah, that one felt good. I knew that actually put some pressure on him. He wasn’t expecting that. Nobody was expecting that.”
Decker two putted for par from the back of the green, and Buckner made bogey, giving Decker the early lead.
Buckner was still just one down after bombing home a long birdie putt on No. 7. Dialed in, Buckner hit his tee shot on the par-3 eighth hole about 12 feet past the hole. Decker was away after his tee shot and barely missed a birdie putt. Buckner conceded the short par putt and had an excellent shot to tie the match. But he left his birdie putt a good four feet short, then missed the par putt, giving Decker a 2-up lead.
“You just can’t give him stuff,” Buckner said. “Maybe it was just the long week. I don’t know. I just didn’t play well. But I’m sure if I played good, he would have stepped it up too. I just wish it had been a better match.”
After the turn, Decker won No. 10 when Buckner couldn’t get out of a greenside bunker. Then Decker chipped in for his lone birdie on the par-3 11th. On 12, Decker made par and Buckner made bogey. On 13, Buckner missed a par putt to halve the hole, and suddenly, the match was over. Handshakes were exchanged. And Decker was a champion once again.
“You know going into it what you’ve got to do,” Buckner said. “But when you just keep making stupid mistakes … you have opportunities, and then the whole thing just flips. That’s just the way it is. That’s golf, right?”
Decker became the first player since Moss Beecroft, who won the final of his six titles in 1999, to win three Senior Amateurs, just adding to a list of accomplishments of which anyone in Virginia would be envious.
ABOUT THE VSGA Senior Amateur
36 holes of stroke play qualifying (18 holes per
the low 32 players advance to match play. Open to
VSGA members who are at least 50 years of age
holding an active GHIN number issued by a licensed
VSGA Member Club in good standing.
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