Mike Bell, 59, of Indianapolis, Ind., made an S-foot putt for par on the 18th hole to win the 2006 USGA Senior Amateur Championship, 1 up, over Tom McGraw, 55, of Montgomery, Texas, at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind.
With the championship match all square on the waterlined par-4 18th, Bell knocked his second shot into a greenside bunker then hit his recovery to S feet. McGraw missed the green short and right from the fairway. His pitch settled 15 feet below the hole and he missed the par attempt. Bell converted his putt for the championship, followed by a leap of joy.
"Outside of marrying my wife, this is the greatest day in my life," Bell said. "I love this trophy. Can I keep it?"
Bell, the owner of a school services company, built a Sup lead through six holes before losing the seventh hole with a bogey. He returned his advantage to three holes when McGraw double bogeyed the eighth.
McGraw, a commercial banker playing in his first Senior Amateur but his 11th USGA championship, slowly made a comeback on the second nine holes.
He made a winning birdie from 15 feet on the par-5 10th. McGraw also won the 12th when Bell could not escape from a buried greenside lie which resulted in a double bogey to cut the Texan's deficit to one hole.
On the 15th, both players had birdie putts of similar length. Playing first, McGraw, a two-time Colorado MidAmateur and Publinks winner, made his 15-footer and Bell missed to square the match. They halved the 16th and then the 17th, when both players missed short par putts.
The winner of the 2006 Indiana State Senior Amateur and the Senior Porter Cup, Bell received his place in the field when Jerry Jackson of Kokomo, Ind., withdrew because of family health concerns. Bell duplicated the feat of 2002 champion Greg Reynolds of Grand Blanc, Mich., who also won as an alternate.
Bell spends part of the winter in Florida and practices more than he plays.
"My friends ask why I practice and don't play and I told them that I wanted to have a chance at being the Senior Amateur champion," Bell said, who played in his second Senior Amateur. "Everybody thought I was crazy but I kept getting better. So, to actually win it is beyond my wildest dreams."
McGraw was clearly disappointed. He survived a sevenway playoff for one of the final six berths in the field of match play.
"I made lots of mistakes," said McGraw. "I played very poorly. I wasn't nervous. I didn't get it done. I didn't get it in the hole when I needed to."
Bell became the first champion to win in his home state since Chicago's Bill Shean won the 1995 championship at Skokie (Ill.) Country Club.
Each one of the finalists, en route to the last match, defeated one of the co-medalists. Bell beat Paul Simson of Raleigh, N.C., 4 and 3, in the quarterfinals. McGraw beat Bill Leonard of Kennesaw, Ga., 4 and 3, in the semifinals. In his semifinal match, Bell beat 2003 quarterfinalist Sam Farlow, 59, of Birmingham, Ala., 4 and 2.
In an adjustment to the regular schedule, both the semifinal and final rounds were played on one day to make up for the time lost during a heavy rainstorm, which postponed play, on the first day of match play. Normally, only the final is played on the last day of the championship.