Raymond Thompson (Golf Association of Philadelphia photo)
SPRING HOUSE, Pa. (July 11, 2018) - Raymond Thompson and his free-swinging game are widely respected around the region. His playing accomplishments at the senior level read like a short novel at this point.
Thompson has now garnered the ultimate senior division prize. The Overbrook Golf Club member finished off his career senior grand slam with a victory in the Brewer Cup presented by Callaway Golf at Old York Road Country Club. Thompson defeated Wilmington Country Club’s Steve Walczak in the final, 2 up, for the hardware Wednesday.
“Out of nowhere, on the back nine, the thought of the [career grand slam] popped into my head. I’m not sure how, or why, but it did,” said Thompson, 66, of Drexel Hill, Pa. “I had to consciously tell myself to stop thinking about it. It’s amazing to think about.”
Two battles – one against an accomplished local product and one against an international senior phenom, equated to the Brewer Cup victory in just his second-ever appearance in the match play championship.
In the morning’s semifinal session, Thompson took down Chip Lutz, reigning eight-time Senior Player of the Year, in a clash of titans. He defeated Lutz, the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur Champion, 5 and 4. Extra motivation was lingering for Thompson, as the semifinal match was a replay of the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur quarterfinals, where Lutz defeated Thompson, 4 and 3, at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C.
“I’ve played against Chip enough to know that you better bring your A-game when you go up against him. Today I had mine, but he didn’t,” said Thompson, who went 2 under through 14 in the semifinal showdown.
Teeing off just after noon, Thompson and Walczak began their joust. The early momentum swung Walczak’s way as the 2015 GAP Senior Amateur winner clawed to a 1-up edge through six holes. From there on out, it was Thompson’s time to shine.
A short Walczak miss for par on No. 7 leveled the match. On No. 8, Thompson perfectly pured an 8-iron from 155 yards out, leading to a five-foot birdie conversion for the 1-up advantage – one he’d take through the turn.
“Those two holes were important, for sure, but I’ve played enough match play to know that being 1 up doesn’t necessarily mean much. It’s never safe,” he said.
Another back-to-back stretch of wins is exactly what the doctor ordered to ease his leading doubt. On No. 11, Thompson’s wedge approach from 139 yards out, nestled in a squirrely lie, came to rest 15 feet away from the cup. He’d roll that one over the front lip. Next, on the par 4 12th, Thompson made 4 and benefitted from a Walczak par miss from 3 feet. The match moved 2 up, Thompson.
A door would be slightly cracked open on the 17th when both players struggled with the sloping front hole location. Thompson, putting from 20 feet downhill for birdie, went on to roll that look off the front of the green and ultimately took a double bogey. Walczak, playing from the front grass, got in for 5. The match moved on to the 18th tee with a lead now at 1 up, Thompson.
Walczak stepped up first, booming his drive down the left center of the short stuff. Thompson pushed his way out to the right, past the double trees, leaving him with a decent angle. From 149 yards out, Thompson hit it over dangling branches with a wedge. The contact was clean and flirted with the green, but the ball trickled into the left greenside bunker.
Next up, Walczak flew a wedge over the flagstick and onto the back collar. His birdie attempt from 40 feet took a large hop off the face and rested short. Thompson stoically blasted his sand shot to 6 feet, giving Walczak a chance to send the match to extras. Walczak couldn’t get that par putt to fall from 8 feet, tipped his hat and shook hands with the champion.
“I couldn’t get down to the ball on the birdie putt, but it was a tough putt that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I shouldn’t have hit it there,” said Walczak, 61, of Greenville, Del. “Ray is a great champion. It was nice to be somewhere close to him at the end of the day. I’m proud to have gotten this far this week and there’s a ton of golf left to be played this summer.”
“I got a little lucky [on No. 18], which you have to do sometimes in match play,” said Thompson. “I love to compete against players like Steve.”
The win marks the first GAP Senior Major victory since 2013 for the Overbrooker. He says it’s a long time coming, especially after a number of close calls and runner-up finishes.
“Now that I think of it, this is the first one in a long time,” said Thompson while reflecting on his trophy case.
Thompson’s Senior career accomplishments take awhile to sift through: two Francis B. Warner Cup victories (2007, 2009), a Frank H. Chapman win (2007), two Senior Amateur Championship titles (2007, 2011) and a Senior Silver Cross Awards (2007, 2011, 2013). Those major wins overshadow his solid runs in USGA championships, or even the Senior Four-Ball trophy Thompson took home alongside clubmate Oscar Mestre in 2017. A BMW Philadelphia Amateur victory in 1972 only adds to the case.
Now, you can check off “Senior Grand Slam Champion” on that seemingly endless list.
“This is a really special win, to be honest with you,” said Thompson. “This is only my second time playing in the event because it’s tough to take off three days in a row. Winning Mr. Brewer’s event means a lot. He is one of the best amateurs to play in the Philly area along with [R. Jay Sigel, William Hyndman, III, and Buddy Marucci]. For sure, he’s one of the best ever.”
While Thompson reflects on past GAP legends, he continues to build on his own personal legacy. It’s one he hopes to build on in the coming years – and even later in 2018.
“Golf is really important to me,” said Thompson. “I can still hit the ball well but I’m not getting any younger. I’m running out of years, so I have to start taking advantage of it while I can.”
Don Donatoni added the latest piece to a burgeoning collection Wednesday in the tournament's 11th edition. The Golf Association of Philadelphia’s five-time reigning Super Senior Player of the Year defeated Thomas Mallouk, 5 and 4, to capture his fifth (2013-15, 2017) Brewer title.
“You would never dream that you’d be able to win one or two of these, let alone five,” Donatoni, 70, of Malvern, Pa., said. “Anybody who plays this game knows that match play is very difficult to get through. To have excelled in this format, I feel that I’m a pretty good match play player. Maybe it’s my discipline and focus. I’ve had a lot of success.”