It'll be a contrast of styles in the U.S. Senior championship final (USGA photo)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (August 30, 2017) - 156 players teed off on Saturday at the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Minikahda. 154 of them have now been eliminated, and the final two,
(Raleigh, NC) and Sean Knapp
(Oakmont, PA), will play for the championship on Thursday morning.
Wednesday was another busy day--the second straight day that two rounds of matches were played--and cut the field from eight to four in the morning, and then to the final two in the afternoon.
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Paul Simson has lifted it twice; Sean
Knapp hopes it's his turn (USGA photo)
As he has done in almost every match in the championship, Knapp got off to a fast start against the defending champion Dave Ryan
(Taylorsville, IL). Knapp made two early birdies and was three up through six holes. Ryan tried to close the gap, twice winning holes only to lose a hole afterward. Knapp was still three up with four to play when he started to stumble, making consecutive bogeys at 14 and 15 to allow Ryan to close the gap to one hole. But Knapp was able to par the last two holes, and Ryan could not find the birdie he needed to extend the match.
Simson got off to a similarly hot start against Frank Vana, Jr.
(Boxford, MA), going three up through four after an opening birdie followed by Vana making two sixes on holes 2 and 4. Perhaps Vana was flat--his previous two matches, including his morning quarterfinal match, had gone to extra holes, while Simson had enjoyed two straight blowout wins and might have been the fresher player. Whatever the reason, Vana could never get anything going and Simson played steady golf to pull away for a 5&3 win.
By virtue of making it to the final match, both Knapp and Simson earned their way to the 2018 U.S. Senior Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs next summer.
In the first match of the day, Knapp took out David Nocar
(Millersville, MD) 2&1. Knapp won the first three holes, but Nocar won three in a row soon after to square the match. Knapp was able to build his lead again as Nocar doubled two par fives and bogeyed the 15th.
"Dave really played well up until No. 13", Knapp told the USGA. "I felt like I was hitting a lot good putts. Just couldn’t get any to go in. With the lead, you’re playing a little more defensive, and that turned into couple of bad holes at 15 and 16. At the end of the day, I got lucky."
Dave Ryan (R) is congratulated by Ken Lee
after what would be the last win of
a spirited title defense (USGA photo)
Ryan beat Ken Lee (Franklin, TN) 2&1 in a match that never felt that close. Ryan birdied three of the first five holes, was four up through eight, and was never seriously threatened thereafter, even if it got uncomfortable at the end.
"I was leaking oil on 16 and 17," said Ryan. "Fortunately, I pulled it out. But he made a good birdie on 15. I mean, that kind of changed the momentum of the match a little bit. I was fortunate to win. I've had all four matches like that."
Simson had a surprisingly easy time with Matthew Sughrue
(Arlington, VA), who up until that point had played some of the best golf of the championship, finishing 2nd in medal play and then going under par for all three of his matches. But he made five bogeys (two on par fives) in his quarterfinal match, and Simson took advantage by winning four of six holes from 6-11 and winning 5&4.
"Matt didn't have his best game today," Simson told the USGA. "He made a few mistakes and I didn't make too many. That was the difference. I only had one bogey. So you get one bogey and make a few birdies, it makes it tough on a guy."
The best match of the four was between Vana and John Pierce
(San Antonio, TX). Like Vana's previous match with another Texan, Alan Hill
, this one featured four lost leads and a trip into extra holes. Vana was down twice on the front nine, then took the lead and lost it around the turn, then got two up with two to go only to see Pierce win 17 with a birdie and 18 with a par. Finally on the 22nd hole Pierce ran into trouble and made a double bogey which ended the match.
"When I needed to hit good shots down the stretch, I hit some pretty lousy ones," Vana said. "It was a good match. We just went and played good golf. We hit some lousy shots and had fun and had some laughs. It's all good. One of us was going to lose and that's going to stink, but either way we would be smiling, as he is. That's what it's about at this point, right?"
Championship Final Preview
In combat sports they say that great matchups make for great fights, and though no one would call senior amateur golf a combat sport, Thursdays final will nevertheless be a great matchup.
Simson is the 66-year-old two-time U.S. Senior champion who has been around seemingly forever and has won just about everything there is to win in senior amateur golf.
Knapp is the 55-year-old "rookie" in senior golf, playing in his first U.S. Senior Amateur after a long and illustrious amateur career that includes over 40 USGA appearances.
Cut the guy's heart out, then shake
his hand afterwards (USGA photo)
The trait that they share is that they are match play killers. A played cannot make it to this level, and for this long, without possessing an otherworldly competitive drive.
Simson told the USGA earlier in the week about the mindset of putting friendships aside when competing in big championships. "It’s all business when it comes to the competition," said Simson. "You’d cut the guy’s heart out to beat him, and you’ll shake his hand afterwards."
Knapp spoke about his tried and tested formula for approaching high-pressure matches: "playing solid golf, and forcing your opponent to make mistakes, and try to not give any holes away".
Related: Sean Knapp Battles Expectations, Advances at US Senior Am
Unlike the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Senior Championship final is only 18 holes, so there will be little time to recover from a bad start.
Simson is 11 years older but has also blown out his last three opponents. He's also won two of these before whereas Knapp has made it as far as he ever has in a USGA championship (he made the semis of the U.S. Mid-Amateur).
One thing is for certain: neither player will back down. They are too driven and have been around for too long.