Virginia Senior Am: Buckner Avenges Last Year's Final Loss
Duncan Hardcastle (L) congratulations Rich Buckner (R) for<br>winning the final match in the 70th Virginia Senior Amateur
Duncan Hardcastle (L) congratulations Rich Buckner (R) for
winning the final match in the 70th Virginia Senior Amateur

By Chris Lang

KESWICK — Duncan Hardcastle nearly drove the green on 14 Friday morning at Keswick Golf Club, so he waited and watched as Rich Buckner hit his approach from the fairway during the championship match of the 70th VSGA Senior Amateur.

Buckner’s low punch caught the front of the green, rolled, checked and settled less than a foot from the hole. Hardcastle could only marvel at the shot.

“How good was that?” he said.

Starting at No. 9, Buckner was completely dialed in. That birdie on 14 was his fourth in five holes, adding up to a 5-and-4 win over Hardcastle and Buckner’s first VSGA championship. Buckner (Robert Trent Jones GC) reached the title match of last year’s event at The Homestead, but he never got going in a 6-and-5 loss to Keith Decker. Buckner had mostly erased that experience from his brain, noting there wasn’t much reason to dwell on the defeat. His biggest goal on Friday?

“I just wanted to play well,” he said. “If you play good and lose, you lose. Oh well. But you saw me last year, and I just didn’t play well in that match.”

Buckner opened the championship match on a foggy Keswick morning with a birdie on No. 1. Hardcastle (Magnolia Green GC) squared the match with a par on 3, but Buckner immediately regained the edge with a par on No. 4. He led the rest of the way, with the advantage dipping below two holes only once.

Hardcastle hung around on the front nine. He made a birdie on No. 6 after hitting an excellent approach shot from the left rough on a sidehill lie to pull within 1 down. On No. 7, both players hit the par-3 green in regulation, but both were well away from the hole. Buckner two putted to save par, but Hardcastle’s par putt lipped out.

That was the story for much of Hardcastle’s round. He struggled to put himself in position for easy birdie opportunities, and Buckner was able to pull away.

“I felt like I wasn’t as sharp off the tee, and I wasn’t sharp with distances and controlling spin,” Hardcastle said. “I had longer putts for birdie than he did. I feel like when you can’t get comfortable with your distances and speed because you’re so far away, when you do get a good look, it’s hard to get confident with it.”

Hardcastle’s ability to scramble was on full display on the par-5 8th. Hardcastle flew the green with his approach and left his pitch back to the green short. Buckner was on the green in regulation, but his birdie putt just slipped left of the hole, leaving him a tap-in par. Hardcastle needed to chip in to halve the hole, and he did just that.

“I had already given him the chip, in my mind,” Buckner said. “I knew he was going to make it. It didn’t upset me. It didn’t bother me. From there, for me, basically it was just keep playing, keep playing. And it worked out.”

The chip seemed to give Buckner a charge. He got up and down at 9 for birdie, added birdies at 10 and 11. After a par on 12, he made another birdie on 13, and just like that Buckner was dormie. Hardcastle didn’t play poorly during that stretch. He just couldn’t match Buckner’s charge.

“Losing, for me, I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s more palatable when someone goes on and beats you because they just played better than you,” Hardcastle said.

No. 14 seemed to be a special place for Buckner over the tournament’s final two days. In Thursday’s semifinals, his pitch off the cartpath finished within two feet of the hole. He clinched the championship by sticking an equally impressive shot from the left side of the fairway. Though a tree branch would have impeded a high-ball hitter, Buckner tends to punch in those situations.

“I took a lot of club, but I had 27 yards of green to work with,” Buckner said. “I knew if I could just hit the green, and get it to stop, it would work. And it just worked perfect.”

Both players will compete in the Senior Open of Virginia at Two Rivers Country Club in Williamsburg Sept. 7-8. Buckner, who has come close in the last two years to claiming a title, can now call himself a champion. Hardcastle came into this week as a relative unknown, but he’ll leave knowing a made a strong impression on the VSGA senior scene during his first championship event.

“The experience was like none other I’ve had when it comes to official, sanctioned events,” he said. “The competition was top notch. You know, there’s a saying in sports that game recognizes game. I think we had a little bit of that going on here. You see guys playing, you see the scores they put up. There’s a kind of respect going around.”

View results for VSGA Senior Amateur
ABOUT THE VSGA Senior Amateur

36 holes of stroke play qualifying (18 holes per day); 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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