2016 U.S. Senior Amateur – Thursday: The Finals

Dave Ryan holding the championship trophy (Photo courtesy of USGA)

Ah, the Beauty of Match play

St. Louis

Hello, Taylorville, Illinois. You have a national champion.

Taylorville resident Dave Ryan beat psychotherapist Matt Sughrue of Arlington, Va., 2 up in Thursday’s match play final of the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Dave Ryan getting big hug from his wife, Amy (Photo by James Achenbach)

Coming home from Old Warson Country Club here in St. Louis, Ryan and his wife, Amy, would have to drive past the old 9-hole Taylorville Country Club, where Ryan learned to play the game.

He would think of glories past while living glories present. He is a national champion. On the way to the title he beat former national champions Paul Simson and Tim Jackson.

“Can you believe that somebody — anybody — learning to play on that golf course could end up like this,” he said softly.

it is a rhetorical question, because Ryan has just done it. He is overwhelmed with the notion.

Dave Ryan focused on his shot (Photo courtesy of USGA)

Ryan is a Midwest kid. It is evident in his reluctance to speak publicly (“This is unbelievable,” he repeated several times) and the cadence of his voice (measured and slow).

He has won dozen of tournaments in his career, including his fourth Illinois State Senior Amateur title just the week before coming here.

This Senior Amateur, otherwise known as the Nail Biter Open, lived up to its billing by providing intense action for six days. In that time period, Ryan played eight rounds of golf, including two qualifying rounds and six individual matches.

“I was very, very fortunate to win this thing,” said Ryan, who is retired from several family businesses.

Matthew Sughrue rolling in a big putt (Photo courtesy of USGA)

The 18-hole final was golf’s version of a rollercoaster ride. Standing on the 11th tee, the 62-year-old Ryan was 4 up on the 57-year-old Sughrue. Five holes later, at the 16th tee, the match was all square.

Ryan, who had won four consecutive holes on the front nine, lost four holes in a five-hole stretch on the back. No matter, for he won the 16th  with a par after Sughrue yanked a 9-iron shot into deep grass at the left of the green.

On 17, Ryan saved par from a greenside bunker. Then he outlasted Sughrue on the 18th, two-putting from 18 feet for par.

Putting was the difference. Ryan totaled just 11 putts on the front nine as he built a big lead.  He finished with 27 putts.

Dave Ryan escaping from a bunker (Photo courtesy of USGA)

Sughrue, meanwhile, lipped out four putts during the round. On both 16 and 17, his putts ricocheted harshly off the side of the cup.

“I thought the putts on 16 and 17 were going down,” he said. “They looked like they were center cut, but they spun out. I will take solace that I probably shook him up a little bit and made it a match.”

Contestants in the U.S. Senior Amateur must be at least 55 years old. A total of 2,382 golfers entered the 2016 tournament, and 156 of them advanced through qualifying events to the championship proper.

Matthew Sughrue pitching up to the green (Photo courtesy of USGA)

As impressive as it was, Ryan’s victory in this national championship is not the biggest thing to happen to Taylorville sports. In 1944, long before high schools were separated into classes based on enrollment, the Taylorville High School basketball team won the state championship with a record of 45-0. The coach of that team was Dolph Stanley.

When Ryan was learning to play golf at Taylorville Country Club, the population of the town was about 9,000. Today it is closer to 11,000.

Meanwhile, the course that inspired Ryan is gone — a mixture of crops and weeds, golf’s version of the ghost patrol.

“It’s very sad,” Ryun said. “You drive by, and you’ve got all these memories in your mind.”

Par for 9 holes was 33. Total distance was maybe 2,800 yards.

Dave Ryan lofting it high from trouble (Photo courtesy of USGA)

On the 1st hole, if you didn’t slice a ball out of bounds or strike a car tooling down the Lincoln Trail Highway, that was a good start. Of course, you also had to avoid a golf ball assault on the nearby water plant.

The 2nd hole was something of a dogleg par 3, with a nuisance tree between the tee and the green.

On the 3rd hole, it was important to avoid hitting partygoers in the Steak Fry cooking area to the right of the fairway.

The 4th hole was earmarked by a cornfield hard on the right, and this was where enterprising junior players would look for golf balls to reuse or resell.

The 5th hole was announced by the distinct aroma of the soybean processing plant, and the primary task was to avoid slicing a drive into the traffic on Route 29.

The final match on the 13th hole (Photo courtesy of USGA)

The 6th and 7th were featureless, straightaway holes that motivated some golfers to improvise and make up their own tees.

The 8th and 9th were driveable par 4s that inspired youngsters to wait until another player (also known as the witness) could verify the bomb that was about to go off.

This was the playground of Dave Ryan.

“My mom (Sally Ryan) would drop me off (in the summer), and I would practice and play all day. I would eat lunch in the kitchen with the staff.”

And then there was Jim Frisina, Taylorville’s gift to golf. He played in the Masters. More importantly, he won the Illinois State Amateur five times, a brilliant record that is unlikely to be matched by today’s tour-crazy youngsters. Just about everybody wants to turn pro at the expense of amateur golf.

When you win a national championship, everything goes through your mind. Everything that made you what you are today.

And today Dave Ryan is a national champion.

For 2016 US Senior Amateur Match Results, Click here: