Bob Royak with his second Jones Cup (Credit: Jones Cup)
is now a two-time winner of the Jones Cup Senior Invitational which features one of the strongest fields of the year in senior amateur golf.
Royak (Alpharetta, Ga.) defeated fellow Peach State player Jeff Knox
at the Sea Island Golf Club on Thursday in a sudden-death playoff. The par-70 Seaside Course hosts the RSM Classic on the PGA Tour each fall.
“This is easily one of the top one or two tournaments for strength of field,” Royak said during an interview with reporters after taking photos with the winner’s trophy. “If you can win this, it’s a good feeling.”
Last year, the Jones Cup Senior ranked behind only the U.S. Senior Amateur for having the strongest field in senior amateur competition. This year’s tournament included 23 of the top 25 players in the current AmateurGolf.com senior amateur rankings.
Royak, ranked seventh, was tied atop the leaderboard at 1-under par following regulation play with Knox, an Augusta National member who was ranked just inside the top 100 entering the week due to limited starts.
Royak shot 69 in Thursday’s third round after shooting back-to-back rounds of 71 in the opening two rounds. He started the day three back of co-leaders Billy Mitchell
and Gary Robinson
who led after 36 holes at 1-under.
Knox started the final round two shots off the lead at 1-over par after shooting 70-71 the first two rounds. He posted another 70 in the third round to make the playoff.
It only took one extra hole for Royak to capture his second title in the 12th edition of this tournament in coastal Georgia. The field was met with strong winds in the first round and winds gusting more than 10 mph again on Thursday.
In regulation play, Royak sank a 15-foot par putt on 18 to get into the clubhouse with the lead at 1 over. Playing two groups behind Royak, Knox had a long and curling downhill birdie putt from behind the flag for birdie to settle the score in regulation, but it stayed outside the cup and rolled a few feet past the hole. He made his comeback attempt for par to force the playoff.
In the playoff, Royak landed his approach well past the pin and just off the green, but Knox flew the green with his second shot and ended up in rough beyond the putting surface.
“I hit a really good shot, an 8-iron from about 164,” Royak said. “The wind was straight across, so I tried to hit a little cut 8-iron in there and hit it really flush. I was holding my breath walking up there. I thought mine was farthest away, but when I saw where Jeff was, I knew that was not a good spot to be. That was a tough shot.”
Knox hit a high pitch for his third shot and landed his ball just off the green. As it rolled toward the cup, it carried too much speed and drifted past the hole, leaving him an uphill 15-foot putt to save par. He ultimately missed that putt and tapped in for a bogey.
Jeff Knox tees off on the 18th hole (Credit: Kevin Price)
Royak followed the pitch shot by Knox with his birdie try and left himself some work to save par, too.
“It was a healthy six or seven feet,” he said of his winning putt. “I didn’t play enough break (on the first putt.) That ball really went hard left to right there.”
Royak hasn't just done his winning in the Jones Cup. He won the U.S. Senior Amateur in 2019 and reached the semifinals this past year. He claimed his first Jones Cup in 2020 prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Both Royak and Knox entered the week playing good golf. They tied for second place at the Gasparilla Senior down in Florida last week along with four-time Jones Cup Senior champion Doug Hanzel
On Thursday, Royak's scorecard showed four birdies and three bogeys including one that was a result of a three-putt at the par-4 13th. Two of his birdies came on hole Nos. 14 and 15, but they were followed by a bogey at the par-4 16th.
He knocked his tee ball close on the par-3 17th which has a slightly elevated green and saw his birdie putt hang on the lip before tapping it in after a short wait.
“That may have been the best putt I hit all week,” he said after the round. “I drove it pretty well today, hit a lot of greens. My iron play was probably my strength this week. I don’t think I made many putts outside of six feet, but putted well enough, I guess.”
Knox made birdies on two of his first three holes, but also had bogeys on the second and eighth holes to make the turn in even par in his closing round. He made nine straight pars on the back nine to shoot his second level-par round of the week.
This year’s Walker Cup captain Mike McCoy
was one of three players who missed the playoff by a stroke as he finished at 2-over for the three rounds while posting his second 70 score of the week in the third round. He got to 1-over with a birdie on the par-4 16th, but his bogey at the last cost him a spot in the playoff.
Steven Harwell of Moorseville, N.C., also finished a shot out of the playoff and wound up tied for third at 3 over. The other player in that group was Mitchell, the co-leader going into the day. He settled for a 73 over the final 18 after shooting 69-70 the previous two rounds.
Mitchell got off to a rough start on Thursday with bogeys on his first three holes. He made two more before the end of his front nine and made the turn in 40 strokes, seemingly falling out of contention for the championship. At 4-over for the day going to the 10th hole, the Atlanta golfer steadied himself on the closing nine and rallied with a pair of birdies on Nos. 13 and 14, but he finished with four pars and would also miss the playoff by a shot.
Robert Gerwin II from Cincinnati, Ohio, shot the low round Thursday with a 67 for the second-lowest individual score of the tournament. He wound up tying for 11th at 5 over.
Robinson, who shared the lead going into the final round, had the best single round of the week with his 66 on Wednesday. He settled for a 77 playing in the last group on Thursday and ended up tied for 13th.
Taking a Breather: Jones Cup Senior winner Bob Royak planned to make the five-hour drive back home Thursday afternoon after wrapping up interviews with media covering the tournament and it didn’t sound like he had any plans to play golf over the weekend with any of his golfing friends back at his home course, St. Ives Country Club in Duluth, Ga.
“I think this was my 10th round of golf in 11 days,” he said. “I’ve been playing a lot of golf. I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off.”
The next time Royak will be seen in an official competition will be the Chanticleer National Senior Invitational which is scheduled for March 28-30 at Greenville Country Club in Greenville, S.C.
Royak finished second there last year.
Masters Connection: Jeff Knox, this year’s runner-up at Sea Island, is well-known in amateur golf circles in Georgia. And those who follow professional golf, especially the annual Masters tournament, are probably familiar with his name, too.
A longtime member at Augusta National, Knox served as a non-competing marker during the Masters for two decades until last spring when the club informed him he would no longer be used for this role, according to a family source that an Augusta newspaper cited in a story prior to last year’s Masters tournament.
A marker plays when there is an uneven number of players in the field following the 36-hole cut. The marker goes off in the first twosome of the day to help provide a pace for the round and keep the participant’s scorecard, but doesn’t post an official score himself.
It’s well-known that Knox has beaten several of the players he’s been paired with through the years including former Masters champion Larry Mize who also is an Augusta native. Knox played with several other Masters winners including Bubba Watson, Vijay Singh, Craig Stadler, Sandy Lyle, and Sergio Garcia.
He famously beat current superstar Rory McIlroy when the two were paired together in the 2014 Masters. Knox shot 2-under 70 while McIlroy posted a 71. Knox then beat Mize the next day.
McIlroy has been quoted saying that Knox putts the treacherous Augusta greens as well as anyone.
Since beating both McIlroy and Mize that year, Knox didn’t ever keep a “real” score again. He would pick up on at least one hole during a round.
Knox, who was 59 last year, lives only four miles from Augusta National. He holds the course-record with an 11-under 61. Knox played golf at the University of Georgia and is a member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. He is a two-time Georgia Mid-Am champion and past winner of the Azalea Amateur.
A successful businessman, he started the Knox Foundation with the purpose of giving back to a charitable organization and building up supportive funds for non-profit groups in the Augusta community.
Of course, a look at the final scores will show how everyone who played this week fared in the end, but a few names other than those in the recap above will be noted here.
, the No. 1 player in the senior amateur rankings coming into the week, finished tied for ninth overall. Strawn got off to a shaky start with a 6-over 76 in the first round, but he came back to shoot 71-72 over the final two rounds to finish at 9 over for the three days.
Last year’s champion Matthew Sughrue
was just a stroke back of Strawn at 10 over at the finish. He wound up tied for 25th. One of the players he tied with was Mike Finster, the Gasparilla winner last week. He posted a 71 and a 72 the first two days before carding a 77 on Thursday with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 sixth hole.
, the runner-up last year after losing a playoff, tied for 44th this year at 14 over. He played the first two rounds with Knox. Peake is from Macon, Ga., which is in the middle of the state.
First-round leader Sherrill Britt
tied for 15th at 7-over.
The top 16 finishers and ties will be invited back automatically to the 2024 Jones Cup. Based on the final results, there were 16 players in all who finished among those tied for 15th or better. The Jones Cup Senior is scheduled for March 4-7 next year.