- VSGA photo
By Chris Lang for the VSGA
MIDLOTHIAN – Championships are sometimes won by the spectacular. A clutch 30-foot putt for birdie. An unexpected eagle from the fairway. A miracle from the bunker that saves par at a key moment.
Sometimes, though, the spectacular can be found in funny places. Take Dave Pulk’s adventure on the 17th hole at Independence Golf Club on Tuesday. Seemingly cruising to victory in the 14th Senior Open of Virginia presented by Independence, Pulk made one bad swing on the 17th tee box, and suddenly he found himself scrambling to survive.
Forced to take an unplayable lie after his tee shot, Pulk managed to regain his wits and make a tournament-saving bogey on the par-5 hole, the key sequence in his one-stroke victory in the event. Pulk—who lives in Williamsburg and is a member at Two Rivers Country Club–posted a two-day total of 6-under-par 138 to win the championship by one stroke over Keith Myers (Blue Hills GC).
Pulk became the third straight amateur champion at the Senior Open—Tazewell’s Buck Brittain won the previous two titles. He also joins Brittain as the only multi-time winners of the event. Pulk previously won in 2015 at The Country Club of Virginia’s Westhampton Course.
And he owed it all to the steely nerves he showed in making bogey on 17.
After making par on 16, he started the hole with a two-shot edge over Myers, who shot 70-69—139 over the tournament’s two days. He was three strokes clear of Glenn McCloskey, PGA, the head professional at Loudoun Golf & Country Club. But Pulk pulled his drive left into the trees that separate the 17th fairway from holes 11 and 12, and his lie was so poor that he had no choice but to take an unplayable lie, costing him one stroke.
“It was basically in a clump of the pine straw, and there were so many trees, there was no way to get it out of there and back to the fairway,” Pulk said. “I was able to get back enough where I could hook an iron around it.”
Pulk made it back to the fairway and then left his approach right near the front of the green. With 80 feet left to the hole, he elected to putt, and he muscled it up a slope about seven feet past the hole. When he sank the comebacker for bogey, he let out a huge sigh of relief.
“It was really one of the best bogeys of my entire career,” Pulk said. “And it couldn’t have come at a better time. … I didn’t want the great round that I had be ruined by one bad swing.”
Meanwhile, McCloskey—who earned low professional honors and finished alone in third at 70-70—140—had an eight footer for birdie that would have drawn him within a stroke. It didn’t fall, leaving him two strokes back with one hole to play. At that point, Myers was already in the clubhouse at 5 under for the tournament.
McCloskey reached the green in regulation on the par-4 18th, meaning Pulk needed only to make par to claim the championship. His approach landed about 10 feet short of the hole, and he two putted for par to claim the title.
Despite coming up short, McCloskey found a lot of positives in his performance. He finished two strokes clear of fellow professionals Rick Schuller (Stonehenge G&CC), Brendan McGrath (Hidden Creek CC) and Chip Sullivan (Royal New Kent).
“I feel good,” McCloskey said. “I beat a lot of good players. … I haven’t been playing a lot competitively, so this is great. I’ve got something to work with and now hopefully I can go on and win the Maryland Senior Open.”
Myers made a spirited run at Pulk, finishing with three birdies in his final four holes. But like Pulk, he found himself in the trees off the tee on 17 and made a costly bogey that stunted his momentum.
“Jon (Hurst, who played in Myers’ group) knew where I stood, but he didn’t tell me and I didn’t really ask,” Myers said. “I was playing just for myself. I’ve been playing pretty good all summer. But I’ve not played well in this tournament. It’s just fun to play well around your fellow peers.”
At 63, Pulk continued his strong summer of play. He became just the second player to reach the final of the VSGA Senior Amateur and win the Senior Open of Virginia in the same year. (David Partridge won both events in 2011.) He also finished tied for sixth at the VSGA Senior Stroke Play Championship. He’ll look to keep it rolling later this month at the VSGA Mid-Amateur and in early October at the VSGA Mid-Senior Amateur Championship.
“Hopefully it’s a streak that will continue,” Pulk said. “We’ll see if I can contend a few more times before the season is over.”
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