Marucci Still Looking For First Title
By Art Stricklin
Fort Worth, Texas – More than a decade after losing the U.S. Amateur title to Tiger Woods, George “Buddy” Marucci will go for his first USGA national title
He’ll tee it up in Thursday’s USGA Senior Amateur final against former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion George Zahringer.
Marucci, 55, the captain of the 2007 and 2009 U.S. Walker Cup teams, dispatched home course club champion John Grace, 3 and 2, in Wednesday’s morning quarterfinal in sunny and warm conditions at the par-71 Shady Oaks Country Club course. He then defeated Frank Ford III 2 up in the afternoon semifinals.
Zahringer, playing in his first Senior Amateur at age 55, rallied for a 2-and-1 victory in the morning against Joe Keller after trailing by four holes early in the match. In the afternoon, he recorded an 18th-hole par for a 1-up win over 55-year-old Randy Nichols.
While Marucci and Zahringer are long-time friends and competitors on the amateur circuit, it marks the first time they have played in the finals of a national amateur championship.
For Marucci, it will be a chance to add the only missing piece to his stellar golfing career, namely a USGA national championship. Marucci said the USGA Senior Amateur was his 51st USGA event. His 1995 U.S. Amateur loss to Woods at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island was his only finals appearance.
“First of all, it’s not easy to win,” said Marucci. “I think anybody who wins a USGA event is great; anybody who wins more than one is phenomenal.
“You’ve always got to beat somebody who is as good or better than you and that’s certainly the case with George.”
After losing in the 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, Zahringer came back to win the 2002 title. He said he will use that championship experience in the 18-hole finals match that will begin at 9 a.m. CDT Thursday.
“After losing in 2001, I was lucky to get back in ’02, but winning the national title meant a great deal to me,” said Zahringer. “I will be using that when I play Buddy.
Both afternoon semifinal matches turned on the back nine. Marucci was all square in his match against Ford as the two headed to No. 14. That was before Ford missed a 3-foot par putt on the 14th green. Marucci also won the 15th but lost the 16th hole. On No. 18 and 1 up, Marucci stiffed his 8-iron approach from 148 yards to within 3 feet of the flagstick. He won when Ford, from Charleston, S.C, failed to covert his own birdie and conceded.
“It would be a big deal to (finally) win a USGA title.”
After scrambling for par or bogeys most of the back nine, Zahringer and Nichols of Connersville, Ind., came to the 18th hole tied.
Zahringer, who did not have honors, went to tee off first, only to be called back by Nichols.
After exchanging first pumps and wishing each other good luck, Nichols hit first and pushed his ball to the right. Zahringer found the fairway with his drive and was safely on in two shots.
After taking three shots to find the 18th green, Nichols failed to make his 15-foot par putt. Zahringer two-putted for the par and victory.
“I knew he was in trouble off the tee, so I just hit driver, 7-iron. Hitting the fairway was key,” said Zahringer.
Both competitors are playing in their first USGA Senior Amateur Championship. Last year Marucci was coaching the USA Walker Cup squad to victory at Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down.
Art Stricklin is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship sites.