Mike Booker (HGA/Twitter photo)
By Richard Dean
HOUSTON (Oct. 7, 2018) – Eventually, Mike Booker
should get enshrined into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. For now, he’s cementing his legacy as the best senior amateur golfer in the Houston area.
On Sunday, the former NCAA golf champion increased his lengthy resume by winning the Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Championship for the third time, adding to his four city am championships.
“All wins are great, especially now that I’m older,” said the 63-year-old Booker, who helped the University of Houston win the 1977 NCAA team championship. “That’s what I’m finding as I get older. The wins are so much more precious because you don’t know how many more you’ll get.”
Booker, who shot 1-over 217 over three days and 54 holes at famed Memorial Park Golf Course, beat runner-up Marshall Piper by two shots. Gary Durbin, last year’s runner-up who lost in a playoff to Buzz Baker, shared third at 5-over 221 with Craig Hurlbert of Magnolia. David Leiss of Houston was fifth at 7-over 223.
“I love this golf course,” said Booker, who closed with a 71 after starting the final round one shot behind 36-hole co-leaders Piper and Hurlbert. “I’ve gotten a lot of competition on this golf course. I’ve been playing on it for 40 years. She’s such a great golf course, always holds up.”
The greens were fast and the rough was thick. But Booker navigated the popular city-owned course with previous rounds of 73 and 73 to position himself for Sunday.
Booker earned the win. He had a list of former winners and talented golfers not far behind, including Piper, who was playing in the final twosome with Hurlbert, just one group behind Booker and Juan Salcedo of The Woodlands.
Piper has led in parts of all four of his Houston city amateur tournaments, which are conducted by the Houston Golf Association. He finished second in 2015.
“I have to learn how to close,” said Piper, a resident of Cypress, who plays out of BlackHorse Golf Club and is a member of Walden on Lake Conroe. “I have to wait until (Booker) goes to Super Senior, I guess. He’s a winner, he knows how to do it.
“I’m thinking next year I’ll come through. It’s just golf, it’s not my career.”
Piper, who briefly played college golf at Oklahoma, is in office technology consulting. Piper, who shot 71-74-74, also rates golf courses for Golf Digest.
Durbin, of Houston, has long been one of the elite city amateur players. He carded rounds of 74-75-72.
“It’s a good sense of accomplishment to finish in the top three,” said Durbin, who won this event in 2012 and regularly finishes in the top five.
Durbin struggled the first two rounds but played better on Sunday.
“It was fun to get back in a better groove,” said Durbin, 61, a two-time winner of the Houston city amateur championship. “If it’s in your nature to want to compete, amateur golf is fantastic. I’ve been doing this a long time and I really enjoy it.
“It’s the same guys we’ve competed against for a very long period of time. It’s great stuff. I’ve heard Mike (Booker) say he’s won the city seven times – four and three (seniors), and I’m two and one.”
Durbin and Booker have been competing against each other for more than 30 years.
“He’s a good friend, a great player, and a tough competitor,” Durbin said. “Probably as accomplished in the amateur, in the state of Texas, as we’ve had. His record, city wins, USGA qualifying, he’s been a great player. He almost won the state senior last week.”
As long as he’s near the leaderboard, Booker is always a threat to win. Even if the long-time Houstonian has to begin a final round from behind, as he did on Sunday.
“I like being in that position,” Booker said. “It’s always more difficult when you’ve got a lead. You start thinking more score, it’s easy to get more defensive. I like being in the hunt but not necessarily the leader. It makes me play a little more aggressive.”
Booker began his move early in the final round. He made birdie on the first two holes en route to making the turn at 3 under. He played solid throughout despite miss-clubbing two times out of the rough for a couple of back-nine bogeys.
The ever-popular Baker, a resident of Richmond, shot 74-75-76 in defense of his championship.
“It wasn’t my year, that’s on me,” Baker said. “They can’t take (the 2017 championship trophy) away.”
Baker was Booker’s playing partner in one of the years that Booker won the Champions Cup Invitational.
“Mike’s a great player,” Baker said. “The most winning guy out here. He’s got so many titles, he’s won a ton.”
Booker has more than made a name for himself on the amateur golf level – statewide as well as nationally. He said he would be very appreciative should he ever get in the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, located in San Antonio.
“I would love to (get in),” Booker said. “It would be a real honor.”
Booker is a four-time winner of the Carlton Woods Invitational and has won the Champions Cup Invitational at Champions Golf Club twice, 18 years between wins.
“That helps you make your point,” Booker said.