No birdies, no problem.
Bob Royak, 57, of Alpharetta, Ga., knows the Frederick L. Dold Trophy won’t have his scorecard engraved from Thursday’s 18-hole championship match of the 65th US Senior Amateur Championship at Old Chatham Golf Club. But his name will be on the silver cup after a hard-fought, 1-up victory over Roger Newsom, 55, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Royak, making his fourth start in the championship and 16th USGA championship overall, is the second player in the last three US Senior Amateur finals to claim the title without a birdie in the championship match. Sean Knapp had a similar outcome two years ago at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, Minn., when he denied Paul Simson a third title, 2 and 1.
Royak also becomes the third player from Georgia to win the Senior Amateur, joining Jackie Cummings (1999), of Columbus, and his US Amateur Four-Ball partner, Doug Hanzel (2013), of Savannah.
“To be a USGA champion, to think that your name is going up on the wall [in the Hall of Champions] in Far Hills, [N.J., at the USGA Museum] with the other champions for 2019, that’s kind of beyond belief,” Royak said. “I don’t know when they put [the plaque] up, but I’ll go up there sometime next year, maybe I am in New York and get over there and see it.”
The match came down to the 18th hole, which statistically was the toughest during the stroke-play portion of the competition last weekend (4.67 average). Neither player found the green in regulation despite hitting the fairway on the 470-yard downhill par-4.
“To be a USGA champion, to think that your name is going up on the wall [in the Hall of Champions] in Far Hills, [N.J., at the USGA Museum] with the other champions for 2019, that’s kind of beyond belief.” – Bob Royak
After Royak’s 226-yard approach with a 19-degree hybrid was slightly pulled just left of the green, Newsom followed with what he called one of his worst swings of the week. He caught a 5-iron from 195 yards a bit heavy and the ball nestled down in the Bermuda grass rough short and left of the green.
All day Newsom had been spot-on with recovery shots – he nearly holed chips on Nos. 5 and 7 – but this time the ball came up 34 feet short. Royak followed with an exquisite chip and run with his 50-degree wedge to five feet.
“I had two choices,” said Royak of his mindset. “My initial thought was I was going to take my sand wedge and I was going to fly it to the ridge. So, I had maybe 20 feet to the top of the ridge and then it levelled off. I either had to go way high and just stop it around the hole or go low and run it up the hill. I figured if I went low, I could get it within six feet.”
When Newsom missed, Royak took some time looking over the line before holing his par putt. Seconds after the ball disappeared to the pleasure of 100 or so spectators, Royak dropped his putter and waved both hands in the air. Then he bent down and collected his thoughts for a few seconds, trying to grasp the accomplishment.
“Relief. Done. Yeah, it’s hard to describe [what it is] to be a USGA champion,” Royak said. “You think about it [the night before] and even this morning before you tee off what it means, and when it finally happens, it’s like, ‘Whoo,’ relief.”
Newsom, who had recorded just 14 bogies in 121 holes of golf prior to the championship match, registered five – with two birdies – on Thursday. He just couldn’t overcome the mistakes after making so few en route to the final.
“It was a good match,” said Newsom, who became eligible for this championship in March when he turned 55. “Back and forth, back and forth; I kind of gave too many [holes away] today. I gave more than what I had given away the first [five] matches.”
Newsom bogied the par-5 opening hole to go 1 down, but managed to make seven consecutive pars before converting consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10. Two holes later, he failed to get up and down for par – he lipped out an eight-foot par putt – while Royak played a perfect pitch with a 9-iron to three feet for a winning par to tie the match. A poor drive by Newsom led to another bogey on No.13, and when Royak converted a six-foot comebacker for par, he went 1 up.
The match remained that way until the 17th hole. Royak three-putted for bogey, missing a five-footer, to lose the hole, setting the scene for No.18.
“All week actually,” said Royak, who advanced by making few mistakes (only 16 bogies, including two in the final) rather than a lot of birdies. “I’d love to count up the number of birdies I made. How many holes did I play? I have no idea (it was 134). I probably made less than 10 birdies (actually 13), which is unusual. I usually get on a roll and can make a lot of birdies.”
This week, par was good enough.