Bill Ploeger, 59, of Columbus, Ga., an insurance executive
who had quit in September after 36 years in 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,
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."