USGA Senior Amateur History

World braces for the millennium bug.

JFK, Jr. dies in plane crash.

President Clinton impeachment trial held.


Bill Ploeger, 59, of Columbus, Ga., an insurance executive who had quit in September after 36 yearsin the business, battled a torrent of emotions during his run to the title at the 1999 USGA Senior Amateur Championship at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club.

"I'm thrilled to death, I can't say anything more than that," said Ploeger. "I can't believe it. I can't believe it. To win a national championship is something that you dream about. To have it happen is just unreal."

In the course of winning the title, which he did with a 3 and 2 victory over 55-year old Gary Menzel, a retired police officer from Milwaukee, Wis., Ploeger defeated two close friends from the state of Georgia in emotionally-grinding matches as well as the "look-up-to" golfer of his generation, 1972 U.S. Amateur champion and four-time Walker Cup team member Vinny Giles of Richmond, Va.

In the final, Ploeger, a humbly-talented player, who has also battled back problems, built a 3-up lead after 11 holes over Menzel, who was making the most of his first appearance in the Senior Amateur.

After halving the first six holes with pars, Ploeger broke the ice with a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 7 to win the hole. He went 2 up with a par on the eighth.

A par won the 11th hole and put him 3 up. Menzel answered with an 18-foot birdie on the par-3 12th. A critical save for par on 13 earned Ploeger some credit for grit after Menzel made a huge par-saving putt from 18 feet. After two more halved holes, Ploeger sunk a three-foot putt to win the title after Menzel missed the green with a second shot that went under a tree and moments later missed his par putt.

In the semifinals, Ploeger defeated his friend of 30 years, Curtis Wagner, 61, of Peachtree City, Ga., 6 and 5. In the second round, Ploeger took 20 holes to dispatch his other Georgia Senior Challenge teammate, Spencer Sappington of Alpharetta. The win over Giles came in the quarterfinals, 3 and 2.

Menzel edged Clifford Davis, 57, of Green Valley, Calif., 2 and 1, to make the final.

In the semifinal win over Wagner, Ploeger won the first three holes and five of the first six to build a comfortable margin. He then won the 12th with a par 3 and halved the 13th with a par to close the match.

"That was a big disadvantage to Curtis," said Ploeger. "He had to take chances and I didn't. I hurt so badly for Curtis. You'd like for it to be somebody you don't know."

Ploeger was emotional in looking back on his win over Giles.

"I still can't believe I beat Vinny," said Ploeger. "He's been so much to me for so many years. I played in the British Amateur when he won it. I can't tell you how much it meant to me, as a golfer, to beat him."

Ploeger, who was contemplating retirement, had already won the 1999 Georgia State Senior Amateur and the Oak Hill (Rochester, N.Y.) Senior.

Menzel, as well, could hardly control his emotions in light of his runner-up finish.

"My son, Brian, caddied for me and he kept me focused." said the equally-humble Menzel. "It meant everything to have him here. Hey, I got to the national final. I have great memories of the players and Portland."