Todd White teaches history at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School, but he might want to consider joining the theatre department. He has been involved in some drama-filled matches during the first two days of the 68th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Martis Camp Club.
Nearly eliminated twice – first in the Round of 64 when No. 64 seed Jerry Gunthorpe took the medalist and top seed to the 18th hole and then in the Round of 32 on Tuesday morning when he needed 21 holes to oust 2023 R&A Senior Amateur champion Brent Paterson – White, 55, of Spartanburg, managed to advance to the quarterfinals with a 5-and-4, Round-of-16 victory over Ken Wade, of Kennewick, Wash.
On yet another gorgeous day in the Lake Tahoe area – temperatures reaching into the 80s with no humidity and not a cloud in the blue sky – White turned around from a marathon second-round match to play bogey-free, 3-under-par golf with the usual match-play concessions to take out the No. 48 seed.
White was joined in the quarterfinals by 2019 champion Bob Royak, 61, of Alpharetta, Ga.; 2019 runner-up Roger Newsom, 59, of Virginia Beach, Va.; 2016 runner-up Matt Sughrue, 63, of Arlington, Va., Joe Palmer, 61, of Norwalk, Iowa, Mike Henry, 55, of Bloomington, Ill.; 1995 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cupper Jody Fanagan, 58, of the Republic of Ireland; and Curtis Holck, 59, of Ankeny, Iowa, who survived the 10-for-6 playoff on Monday morning to get into the draw.
When White took a 2-up lead on Wade with a par on the sixth hole, it was the first time in 45 holes of match play that he led by more than a hole. The 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champion only lost one hole coming in – the par-5 10th when Wade was conceded his eagle putt – to earn his first final-eight berth in a USGA championship since the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla.
“For me, I am a high-ball hitter and obviously with altitude I get a little bit more distance,” said White, the 2023 South Carolina Amateur champion who was a member of the victorious 2013 USA Walker Cup Team. “That’s something that I am having to calculate, so instead of a history teacher, I may go back and be a math teacher.”
In the morning, White needed to muster all of his vast USGA experience – this is his 35th event – to eliminate Paterson, of New Zealand. On 18, White had a chance to close out the match on the 18th hole but missed a 6-foot left-to-right, sliding par putt. Then on the first extra hole, Paterson remarkably stayed alive by converting an 18-foot par putt.
Both had chances on No. 20 – White came up a revolution short from the fringe and Paterson missed a downhill 10-footer – before White closed it out with a 6-foot par putt on the 201-yard, par-3 21st hole. Paterson failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, missing a 20-footer for par.
Palmer, perhaps, received a little mojo from a memento he’s kept in his pocket this week. It’s a USA Walker Cup ball marker given to him by native Iowan Mike McCoy, who will captain his 10-man side this weekend against GB&I on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. Two down with three holes to play in his Round-of-16 match, Palmer, 61, won the 16th hole with a par, stuffed his tee shot on the 159-yard, par-3 17th to set up a winning birdie and then converted a 25-foot par putt on the closing hole to win, 1 up, over Randy Haag, of Orinda, Calif. In an attempt to tie the hole, Haag saw his 6-foot par putt do a near 360-degree turn around the hole. Both players had missed the green with their approach shots; Palmer finding the deep greenside bunker to the right of the putting surface.
“A lot of my friends call me ‘The Grinder,’” said Palmer, who won his morning match, 4 and 3, over David Hayes and will be making his first quarterfinal appearance in five Senior Amateur starts. “It’s why I enjoy match play. I grinded it out and we’re going on. I’m excited.”
Second-seeded Sughrue, fresh off a runner-up finish in the Virginia State Senior, also a match-play competition, also grinded out two victories on Tuesday to reach the final eight for the first time since 2017 at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis. Sughrue, who lost in the 2016 final to Dave Ryan at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, defeated Greg Sanders, of Anchorage, Alaska, 1 up, in the Round of 32 and then eliminated Scotland’s Ronnie Clark, 2 and 1.
Down the stretch, Sughrue hit a number of solid shots including an 8-iron to a challenging back-right hole location on No. 13 for what became a conceded birdie to go 2 up. Then on the par-5 15th hole, he matched Clark’s brilliant second shot as both reached the green in two to set up matching birdies. Sughrue drove the green at the 282-yard, par-4 16th hole for a two-putt birdie, but Clark got up and down for birdie to tie. A solid 9-iron tee shot on the par-3 17th hole enabled Sughrue to comfortably two-putt from 15 feet to close it out.
Henry, who rallied from an opening-round 84 to make match play with a 2-under-par 70 in Sunday’s second round, eliminated another past USGA champion on Tuesday morning when the 55-year-old defeated 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Tim Hogarth in the longest match of the championship, a 23-holes thriller. On Monday, he ousted 1979 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jack Larkin Sr., 1 up, and he’ll get a third USGA champion in the quarterfinals on Wednesday (White) after knocking out James Sewell, of Cameron Park, Calif., 6 and 5, in the Round of 16, playing the equivalent of 4-under-par golf with match-play concessions.
After escaping with a 20-hole win over John Hornbeck in the morning, Newsom, an ophthalmologist who entered match play as the No. 5 seed, rolled to a 5-and-3 win over Jeff Mallette, playing 1-under golf over the 15 holes. He desperately wants to atone for a tough 1-down defeat in the championship match four years ago at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C., saying during stroke play that “he wants to get that monkey off my back.”
Royak eliminated fellow Georgian Tom Lape, 2 and 1, to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year and the third time since he won four years ago. A year ago, he lost to the eventual champion and fellow Peach State golfer Rusty Strawn. Earlier on Tuesday, he ousted 2015 champion Chip Lutz in 19 holes after trailing by three holes early in the match. He slowly chipped away before winning the 19th with a par.
Fanagan, bidding to become the first international champion in Senior Am history, rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to win the 16th hole and go 1 up in his Round-of-16 encounter with No. 3 seed Steve Harwell. Then he lipped out a 4-foot par putt to close out the match on 17 before executing an exquisite pitch from rough to the left of the 18th green. Despite the sidehill lie and little green in which to work, Fanagan, competing in his first USGA championship, delicately launched his ball into the fringe and watched it trickle 7 feet below the hole. Harwell had a chance to force extra holes but saw his birdie attempt from 12 feet die short of the hole. Fanagan then calmly converted the par putt to seal the win.
It was reminiscent of his play in the 1995 Walker Cup when he teamed with future three-time major champion and countryman Padraig Harrington to defeat Tiger Woods and John Harris in foursomes, part of a 3-0 performance in a GB&I victory at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
“That was nice,” said Fanagan of his final-hole execution. “It’s in there somewhere. Sometimes it comes out and sometimes it doesn’t. I got a lovely lie and I could just pitch it into the first cut and hope it comes out [right]. It came out beautiful.”
Holck, the 2002 Iowa Mid-Amateur champion, produced a pair of 2-and-1 victories on Tuesday, first defeating Chris Fieger and then James Volpenhein to set up a quarterfinal matchup against Fanagan.
The quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be contested on Wednesday, starting at 7:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. PDT, respectively. The 18-hole championship match is set for Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Admission is free, and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“I was thinking going through the morning match today that I am striking the ball well enough to advance. I just hope it’s not my putter that sends me home.” – Todd White
“It’s nice to advance to the quarterfinals in my first Senior Am. I am already part of a winner because it exempts me to The Honors Course next year. For me, it’s almost like [Alabama] coach Nick Saban says, it’s a process. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You’re hitting golf shots and obviously what your opponent does can change a little bit of the process. But right now, I am playing halfway decent, so I am just going to stay with it.” – White
“This field is incredible. There were some intestinal-fortitude moments, particularly this morning [in my Round-of-32 win over Greg Sanders] where I had to gather myself and pull it together and I did.” – Matt Sughrue
“Playing with a good friend (Randy Haag) makes it easy. He played well. He got off to a hot start. Birdie-eagle, just kick-ins [on Nos. 3 and 4]. And I just had to hang in there. I knew he wasn’t going away with his short game. Both of us didn’t hit the kind of shots we wanted into 18. I just got lucky [to make a 25-footer]. Golf is a little bit of that.” – Joe Palmer
“Yes. Absolutely. I had hoped to be there, but I was coming here. Just can’t do everything. But I’ve got to go to the Czech Republic on Sunday [for the European Senior Team Championships]. Lots going on. Busy boy.” – Jody Fanagan when asked if he would be following the 2023 Walker Cup Match at St. Andrews
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.