How about a Walker Cup appetizer before the actual main course. Medalist and top seed Todd White, 55, of Spartanburg, S.C., who competed on the winning USA side in 2013, will face 1995 Great Britain and Ireland competitor Jody Fanagan, 58, of the Republic of Ireland, in Thursday’s 18-hole final of the 68th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Martis Camp Club.
White, a high school history teacher and champion of the 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with his teammate from the 2013 Match at National Golf Links of America, Nathan Smith, and Fanagan, who went 3-0 in a GB&I victory at Royal Porthcawl in Wales, each won a pair of matches on another chamber-of-commerce day in the Lake Tahoe area Wednesday to become the last two standing.
The 49th Walker Cup Match will commence on Saturday at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland with the USA looking to claim a fourth consecutive victory in the biennial competition.
“Depends on the outcome,” said White when asked if Thursday’s final will be a precursor to what transpires this weekend. “Again, all the best to the guys that are over there at St Andrews this week, the [USA] Walker Cup Team. Shout-out to them, and keep that Cup here in the U.S., guys.”
Added Fanagan: “As we're playing tomorrow, the Walker Cup is about to start in St Andrews I think in a couple of days, so I'll be keeping an eye on that on the weekend. It's one-on-one, play Todd. I just have to look after my own game. That's what I'm looking forward to.”
Fanagan, a USGA rookie, is the first international player in Senior Amateur history to make a final, while White, competing in his 35th USGA championship, will play in his first final as an individual. He previously advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms in the Chicago suburbs, and he won the inaugural Four-Ball title at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
To reach the final, White had to outlast 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur runner-up Roger Newsom, of Virginia Beach, Va., 2 and 1. The match featured 13 combined birdies with White knocking in a 3-footer on the 171-yard, par-3 17th hole for his seventh of the match following a brilliant 9-iron tee shot.
Four holes in the match were tied with birdies.
“The birdies were flying everywhere,” said White, the 2023 South Carolina Amateur champion. “I'm sure it was fun to watch, but it was fun to play in. You knew that ebb and flow of the match, topping birdies here and there, it was a great match. Hats off to him for all the birdies he made.”
White made three consecutive birdies from No. 6 to go from 1 down to 1 up (they tied No. 6), which included a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 eighth.
“Eight was the longest putt I've made all week,” said White. “To be honest with you, with the [right-to-left] break that was in the putt, I was just throwing it up on the hill and just trying to lag it down there really, get the halve, and it just happened to go in.”
White eventually built as much as a 2-up lead through 11 holes before Newsom birdied No. 12. White regained his 2-up advantage on the next hole with a winning par to Newsom’s double-bogey 6, but a conceded birdie to Newsom on No. 14 cut the margin back to 1 up. White’s tee shot on the 173-yard, par-3 went astray, and he failed to reach the green in three shots.
Both birdied the par-5 15th, and White made an all-world par on the 317-yard, 16th hole. With Newsom 10 feet above the flagstick with his approach, White sent his 25-yard wedge approach over the green into rough on a challenging slope. He delicately chipped to 4 feet, and when Newsome failed to convert, he made the par putt to get a critical tie and maintain his 1-up lead.
That set up his heroics on No. 17.
“Yeah [it’s disappointing], especially in the last four years, when I've gotten so close,” said Newsom, who was a quarterfinalist last year at The Kittansett Club. “It's tough. I played good the whole tournament, and just Todd White is too much. He's a super good player.”
Fanagan, who teamed with future three-time major champion and countryman Padraig Harrington to win a foursomes match over Tiger Woods and John Harris in the 1995 Walker Cup, appeared headed to a runaway victory over 2019 champion Bob Royak, of Alpharetta, Ga., in a rematch of a singles contest between the two players in last November’s Concession Cup between the USA and Europe, held at Valderrama in Spain. Royak got the best of Fanagan, 3 and 2, as the USA rallied from a 5-point deficit to post a 13-11 victory and remain unbeaten in a Ryder Cup-style competition that features mid-amateur and senior golfers.
Fanagan built a 4-up lead on Royak by playing the equivalent of 4-under-par golf with concessions through 10 holes. Then, his game went off the rails with bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12 and a double bogey at 13, shrinking his lead to 1 up. When Royak birdied the 16th hole, the match was tied.
On the 18th hole, Fanagan hit his 3-wood tee shot into the left rough, forcing a pitch-out, while Royak’s drive just trickled into the right rough. Royak, however, came up short in the rough with his gap-wedge approach from 150 yards and failed to make a 10-foot, uphill par putt after Fanagan nearly converted his 25-footer for par from above the hole.
At the first extra hole, the 390-yard, par-4 first at Martis Camp, Fanagan, who had birdied the hole in regulation to match Royak’s 3, found the green with his approach from the fairway. Royak’s approach landed left of the green in the rough, leaving a challenging downhill pitch. The best he could do was get to within 15 feet, and when he failed make the par putt, Fanagan tapped in for a winning par.
“I played good,” said Royak. “I didn't putt good. To be honest, I didn't putt well all week. I three-putted twice on the front nine. Just didn't make anything this week. That's the way it goes.”
Added Fanagan: “You know how tough this course is. One or two average shots, you're in the rough, and you can't make par, and the guy goes on a stretch of par, par, par, birdie, birdie, and I was lucky. You know it's tough, and you assume nothing.”
White was nearly sent packing in a drama-filled, 19-hole quarterfinal match against Mike Henry, an insurance executive from Bloomington, Ill., who was a walk-on at Western Illinois University. Henry made an exquisite up-and-down par on the par-4 16h hole to manage a tie, and then both players stuffed their tee shots on the par-3 17th. Henry, who barely made the cut after shooting 84-70 in stroke play and then defeated a pair of USGA champions to reach Day 3 of match play, saw his 8-footer lip out, while White’s 6-footer curled across the front lip of the hole and remained on the edge.
At the par-4 closing hole, both hit solid approach shots; White to 18 feet above the hole and Henry to 8 feet right of the flag. White’s putt stopped a revolution away from the hole and Henry saw his birdie attempt to win the match miss high on the right.
White would close the match with a wedge approach to 4 feet on the par-4 19th hole, setting up his second birdie of the match on Martis Camp’s 390-yard opener. He also wound up making 3 at the hole in his semifinal match.
Fanagan, meanwhile, didn’t have to sweat much in his 5-and-3 quarterfinal win over playoff survivor Curtis Holck, of Ankeny, Iowa.
The other two quarterfinal matches saw Royak outlast No. 2 seed and 2016 runner-up Matt Sughrue, of Arlington, Va., while Newsom held off a gritty Joe Palmer, of Norwalk, Iowa, 1 up. The first eight holes of that match were tied until Newsom took the lead for good with a winning par on the ninth hole. He twice upped his margin to 2 holes before holding off Palmer, who won the last three holes of his Round-of-16 match on Tuesday afternoon to eliminate No. 4 seed Randy Haag.
The 18-hole championship match will take place on Thursday at 8 a.m. PDT. Admission is free, and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“I haven't even stopped to think about that. As I said [on Tuesday], Coach [Nick] Saban [of Alabama] talks about the process, not worried about an outcome, just do your job. That's kind of what I'm doing on each shot is I'm not really worried about what the opponent is doing. I'm just trying to play golf the best I can.” – Todd White when reminded of the perks that go to the finalists
“I'm not looking at course setup. I'm not looking at anything else, I'm just looking at the shot that's called for and seeing if I can execute and hit that shot. Luckily for me, I'm tickled pink to be in the finals. I really am.” -- White
“I don't know, very exciting. On this course, you're never done. I played great in the first nine, ten holes and I was 4 up, but you know the match is not over. A lot of golf to be played, and Bob is a really great player. I hit a few bad shots on the back nine but hung in there at the end. Long day, two matches today but looking forward to tomorrow.” – Jody Fanagan
“You get no easy matches. The guys are really strong. We played Bob in Spain last November and Bob got the better of me that day. I was certainly up for it. But it teaches you that if you play your game, you're good enough. I didn't play my game that day, but today I was better. It was a great match but just got over the line.” – Fanagan
“He was pretty special all right, yeah. It was his first time playing links [golf] and he probably struggled a little bit in the tough weather in Wales back in 1995, but you could see that he had all the attributes. He was class.” – Fanagan on beating Tiger Woods in foursomes at the 1995 Walker Cup
“He's a superior player, and if you're going to beat him, you've got to raise your game. What can you say?” – Roger Newsom on his defeat to the top-seeded White
“I hit it really good. All I was trying to do was hit it somewhere in the front [of the green], and it was probably two yards short and it backed off. I'd like to have that shot over, obviously. I made good contact, [but] the ball just didn't carry as far as I thought it was going to.” – Royak on his approach to 18 in the semifinals
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.