Looking back at 2016, the golf tournament I remember most vividly was the U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis.
Part of the reason was very personal: I grew up on the same golf course as the winner, 62-year-old Dave Ryan of Taylorville, Ill.
Taylorville Country Club was no ordinary layout. It was a 9-hole course with a par of 33. It was a weed-happy, baked-out, rinky-dink, pitty-pat test of golf. Now long gone, it was squeezed between the corn and soybean fields of central Illinois.
It was home. It was where we learned to play the game.
In one memorable day at Old Warson, Ryan defeated Paul Simson and Tim Jackson. Both were multiple national champions. Both were overwhelming favorites to beat Ryan.
It didn’t happen. Simson fell in 20 holes in the quarterfinals, Jackson lost 1-down in the semifinals.
Against Simson, Ryan made an extremely rare hole-in-one on the par-4 14th hole, which was playing at a length of 327 yards. Against Jackson, he sank clutch putts on the final two greens, including a winning 8-footer on the 18th.
There was additional high drama in the Jackson match. Here is the story behind the story.
Playing the par-4 8th hole, Ryan and Jackson each faced a 3-foot par putt. “Good-good?,” Jackson asked. “Sure thing,” replied Ryan, as both putts were conceded.
Fast forward to the par-4 14th. Once again, the two players faced 3-foot par putts.
“Good-good?” Jackson inquired.
“No, I want to see them hit the bottom of the cup,” Ryan answered.
Jackson, appearing to be agitated, missed his putt. Ryan made his to win the hole.
To be fair, Ryan’s putt was less treacherous. It was more uphill while Jackson’s was more sidehill. Regardless, a strong argument could be made that the match was decided on this hole.
After his victory, Ryan reluctantly confirmed the story. He did not want to be perceived as a putt-em-all guy.
Jackson, the veteran Tennessee gentleman, did not use the 14th as an excuse for his loss. “I missed,” he said, “and when we got to 17 and 18, he made two crucial putts (for a birdie at 17 and par at 18) to win the match.”
In golf, the rules are not identical for match play and medal play. What’s more, there can be a distinct psychological element to match play. Some would say that Ryan used psychology to his advantage on the 14th green. Others would contend that he simply faced an easier putt.
All I know is that a savvy man from the corn and soybean fields of central Illinois was smart enough and talented enough to win a national championship.
Golf: What an interesting, exhilarating pursuit.
Jim Achenbach, Senior Golf Insider firstname.lastname@example.org