Mike Finster (USGA Photo)
The 68th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship could not have started any better at picturesque Martis Camp Club, a Tom Fazio design situated not far from Lake Tahoe. Clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, and temperatures in the 70s with a relative humidity of less than 30 percent was the kind of Chamber-of-Commerce weather anyone would want for an 18-hole round.
But Martis Camp, with its thick, rough, tree-lined fairways and elevation changes, wasn’t quite as nice as Mother Nature on Saturday for the opening round of stroke play.
Just six players broke par on the longest course in U.S. Senior Amateur history (it measured 7,235 yards for Round 1), with Randy Haag, 64, of Orinda, Calif., and Mike Finster, 58, of Saint Petersburg, Fla., leading the way with 2-under-par 70s.
Four others posted 71s: 2019 champion Bob Royak, of Alpharetta, Ga.; Brady Wayment, of Gilbert, Ariz.; 2016 runner-up Matt Sughrue, of Arlington, Va.; and Ronnie Clark, of Scotland. Five others, including 2013 USA Walker Cup competitor Todd White, managed to shoot even-par 70.
The stroke average was 78.3.
“The course setup is fantastic,” said Haag, who is competing in his eighth U.S. Senior Amateur and 48th USGA championship overall. “The pins are in good spots. I played here about 12 years ago in a [U.S.] Mid-Am qualifier, and I made a 7 on the par-3 third hole. I fought hard the rest of the day and shot even [par] and was medalist. Seventy-five played off [for the final spots]. This course showed some teeth.”
The Olympic Club member had a wild round that featured seven birdies, including three in a row in the middle of his first nine (he started on No. 10), and then closed with birdies on two of Martis Camp’s most challenging holes: Nos. 8 and 9. He hit a 22-degree rescue into the 249-yard eighth to 6 feet and then ripped a 320-yard 3-wood tee shot on the 457-yard ninth, setting up an approach to 20 feet, and he converted the downhill putt.
Finster, a former Northwestern University golfer who, like Haag, was in the afternoon wave, only had three birdies, but all of them came on the inward nine. That included a two-putt 4 on the 541-yard, par-5 15th and nearly driving the green on the 309-yard 16th. He pitched the ball to 8 feet to set up his final birdie. On the 466-yard, downhill closing hole, he hit nearly a 400-yard drive into the right rough and settled for a two-putt par from 35 feet.
A five-time U.S. Senior Open qualifier, Finster is playing in his first U.S. Senior Amateur after he became exempt by being among the top 30 age-eligible points leaders in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®.
“It is such a gem,” said Finster of Martis Camp. “The fairways are wide enough, but now they’re starting to dry out, so you are getting some of the run-out. I got a putting tip halfway through the round from my brother [and caddie], Casey, which helped me because I was a little nervy early in the round, and he told me just to move it up in your stance a little bit. That was the key.”
Royak, 61, could have joined Haag and Finster, but after getting to 3 under with birdies on 15 and 16, he double-bogeyed the par-3 17th hole when his tee shot hit the rocks short of the green and he couldn’t find the ball.
Royak then made a superb up-and-down par from 25 yards short of the green on No. 18 after finding a fairway bunker with his drive. Royak came to Martis Camp off a great summer, which includes wins in the Senior Jones Cup at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga., the North & South Senior at Pinehurst and the Lupton Invitational at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., the host site for this championship next year.
Clark, 62, is making his USGA championship debut this week after becoming fully exempt by being one of the top 30 age-eligible points leaders in the WAGR®. The captain of the six-man Scottish Senior National Team that will compete in the European Senior Team Championships in early September in the Czech Republic, got it to 3 under par following a birdie on the 549-yard, par-5 seventh hole before succumbing to a pair of late bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9 (he started on No. 10).
Wayment, who lost in the Round of 32, 1 down, to eventual runner-up Jerry Gunthorpe in the 2021 U.S. Senior Amateur, prepped for this week by qualifying for this year’s U.S. Senior Open at SentryWorld, where the rough was even more challenging. The 58-year-old, who took up competitive golf in his mid-40s, birdied three of his last four holes to post his 71.
Sughrue, 63, also reached 2 under par when he eagled the par-5 seventh hole (his 16th of the round), but gave one stroke back a hole later.
White, a high school history teacher from Spartanburg, S.C., was in the group of five who posted 72s. A first-year eligible player who won the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (with Nathan Smith) in 2015, the 55-year-old White managed a nice up-and-down par on the ninth hole, his last of the day, after driving it in a fairway bunker.
One of the players he beat in that Four-Ball final at The Olympic Club, Sherrill Britt, of West End, N.C., also shot even par, along with Jon Brown, of Adel, Iowa, Steve Harwell, of Mooresville, N.C., and Brent Paterson, of New Zealand.