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Reaching The Mountain Top

Chicago -- For many of the golfers competing here at Beverly Country Club this week, the 2009 USGA Senior Amateur represents another notch in a long list of championships that a player can say that he has made it to. The majority of this 55-and-older crowd has a lifetime of golf stories, and a full career of competing in USGA championships such as the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur, and other national-level competitions.

But for a select few, this week on Chicago's south side represents the culmination of a dedicated commitment to reaching something that so very often eludes even the best players in the game: the opportunity to compete for a national championship.

Of the 156 players to qualify, 34 are making their rookie journey to the pinnacle even for senior golfers. Needless to say, when they walked to the first tee Saturday morning, the feeling must have been unlike any other they have felt in the game.

“I was really nervous, and had a tough time getting past it for the first five or six holes,” said Mike Heffner of nearby Westchester, Ill. “This is a huge step up in competition for me, but those first-time jitters are supposed to be there, because if they’re not, then you really don’t care much about what you’re doing.”

J.P. Leigh of Suffolk, Va., and Ford Cartwright of Lufkin, Texas both made it here after failing in five previous tries, and both made the most of their opening rounds. Of the 34 first-timers, Leigh posted the lowest score with a 2-over 73, along with Weir King of Stuart, Fla. Cartwright was one shot behind with a 74, as was Steve Whittaker of Becker, Minn.

Leigh, who has been the alternate out of his sectional qualifying site four times and lost in three playoffs for a berth into this championship, almost didn’t file an application this year. “But I had been playing really well the last couple of months, so I thought I’d give it one more try,” said Leigh.

He went out and fired a 3-under 69 at The Dominion Club in Virginia, to finally qualify. “I’m very pleased, because this is a neat thing to have done and it’s unique,” said Leigh. “I’m grateful to finally be here, so let’s see how far I can go. Whatever happens I’m fine with.”         

Curt Joa, a 59-year-old owner of a manufacturing business in Kohler, Wisc., had tried to qualify for the Senior Amateur the past four years, but came up short. But this time, he made it through, and when he arrived here, he listed on his player biography form that his most memorable experience in golf was shooting even par to qualify, and then driving into the gates at Beverly C.C. to register for this championship.

Joa shot a 76 Saturday, while Heffner played better on the second nine once his nerves calmed down, carding a 78. Both will need to post a better score today, in order to be one of the 64 match-play qualifiers.

Heffner is at least in good company to try and do so, as both of his fellow competitors are first-time USGA championship participants as well. Robert Cloud of Denver, Colo., shot a 78 while Mark Kedy of Ada, Okla., struggled with an 83. At least today when they walk down the fairways together, all three should know full well how their fellow competitors are feeling.    

Story written by Dave Fanucchi of the USGA Communications Department. E-mail him with questions or comments at

55th USGA Senior Amateur Championship - Beverly Country Club, Chicago, Ill.
Saturday’s first round scores of the 34 players participating in their first USGA Championship:

J.P. Leigh, Suffolk, Va. - 38-35--73

Weir King, Stuart, Fla. - 35-38--73

Ford Cartwright, Lufkin, Texas - 38-36--74

Steve Whittaker, Becker, Minn. - 38-36--74

Daniel Houlihan, Rockford, Ill. - 40-35--75

David Williamson, Ladoga, Ind. - 38-37--75

Mike Metz, Charleston, S.C. - 38-37--75

Murphy Mitchell, Tulsa, Okla. - 36-39--75

Bob Gillispie, Franklin, Tenn. - 38-38--76

Curt Joa, Kohler, Wis. - 38-38--76

Jerry Maras, San Clemente, Calif. - 40-36--76

Ken Highlander, Edwardsville, Ill. - 38-38--76

Mike Thompson, Tupelo, Miss. - 40-36--76

Robert Levy, Windermere, Fla. - 39-37--76

Robert McKnight, New Smyrna, Fla. - 39-37--76

Van Lefferdink, Jupiter, Fla. - 39-37--76

Bruce Chamberlin, Fort Worth, Texas - 40-37--77

Gary Johnson, Eden Prairie, Minn. - 40-37--77

Bill Henry, Cranford, N.J. - 39-39--78

Mike Heffner, Westchester, Ill. - 37-41--78

Robert Cloud, Denver, Colo. - 41-37--78

Kurt Bernhisel, Salt Lake City, Utah - 40-39--79

Philip Russo, Cincinnati, Ohio - 42-37--79

Robert Brunetti, Goshen, Conn. - 39-40--79

Bill King, Phoenix, Ariz. - 42-38--80

Frank Ellenburg, Chandler, Ariz. - 42-38--80

George Bullard, Augusta, Ga. - 42-38--80

Jerry Blake, Lansing, Mich. - 42-39--81

William McBee, Dallas, Texas - 42-40--82

Bill Snell, Santa Cruz, Calif. - 43-40--83

Mark Kedy, Ada, Okla. - 42-41--83

John Stewart, Birmingham, Ala. - 45-40--85

Tom Ballantyne, Meridian, Idaho - 43-42--85

Erik Daniels, Marietta, Ga. - 45-45--90


Only five of the 34 first-timers made it into match play: Steve Whittaker 74-73--147 was the low stroke play scorer among them. He was followed by Daniel Houlihan 75-73--148; J.P. Leigh 73-76--149; Weir King 73-77--150; and David Williamson 75-75--150. Robert McKnight 76-75--151 was in an 11-man playoff for eight spots in the match play field Monday morning.

Maras, Highlander, Thompson and Lefferdink each missed advancing by a single stroke with a score of 152 - the ultimate heartbreak.





Championship Facts
PAR AND YARDAGE – Beverly Country Club will play at 6,654/6,672 yards and a par of 36-35—71.

ARCHITECT – Beverly Country Club was designed by George O’Neil and opened in 1908. Donald Ross redesigned the course in 1918. A renovation of the course, guided by golf course architect Ron Prichard, was completed in 2008.

COURSE AND SLOPE RATING – The USGA Course Rating® for the Senior Amateur at Beverly Country Club is 72.7 and USGA Slope Rating® is 133.

USGA AND ILLINOIS – The 2009 USGA Senior Amateur will be the 57th championship conducted in the state of Illinois, ranking it fourth among states hosting the most USGA championships. The last USGA championship in the state was the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton. The Senior Amateur is making its fifth appearance in Illinois (1962, 1973, 1979, 1998).


Saturday, Sept. 12 — First round, stroke play (18 holes)

Sunday, Sept. 13 — Second round, stroke play (18 holes)

Monday, Sept. 14 — First round, match play (18 holes)

Tuesday, Sept. 15 — Second round, match play (18 holes); Third round, match play (18 holes)

Wednesday, Sept. 16 — Quarterfinals, match play (18 holes); Semifinals, match play (18 holes)

Thursday, Sept. 17 — Final, match play (18 holes)

ADMISSION IS FREE – Admission and parking is free. Tickets are not needed for this USGA championship and spectators are encouraged to attend.

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