Alpharetta’s Bob Royak captured the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship Thursday, the third time a Georgia golfer has won the USGA event since 1999.
Royak joins Bill Ploeger of Columbus (1999) and Doug Hanzelof Savannah (2013) as U.S. Senior Amateur champions. Royak and Hanzel were among six Georgia seniors to qualify for match play in this year’s event, which was played at Old Chatham GC in Durham, N.C.
The 58-year-old Royak defeated RogerNewsom1-up in the finals. Newsom, a two-time Virginia State Open champion, played in college at East Carolina.
The victory was the first in a USGA event for Royak, who had never advanced as far as the quarterfinals in 15 previous starts in USGA championships.
“It’s hard to describe (what it is) to be a USGA champion,” Royak said after his victory. “You think about it and what it means, and when it finally happens, it’s like, ‘Wooo, relief’.
“To be a USGA champion, to think that your name is going up there on the wall in Far Hills with the other champions for 2019, that’s kind of beyond belief. I don’t know when they put (the plaque) up, but I’ll go up there sometime next year and see it.”
Royak has won several significant tournaments in the state, among them the 2008 Atlanta Open, the 2017 GSGA Senior Championship and the 2018 Georgia Senior Open. He has been a frequent qualifier for USGA events, but this is the first time he has made a deep run in one of them.
In Thursday’s championship match, Royak won with a steady performance, pulling out the narrow victory despite not making a birdie the entire match. Royak carded 16 pars and made just two bogeys, becoming the second champion in the past three years to win without making a birdie in the finals.
Royak parred the first 14 holes in the title match to take a 1–up lead, but halved the 15thwith his first bogey of the day, and lost his lead with a three-putt bogey at the par-3 17th. He won the match with a par on the difficult par-4 18th, one of several clutch up-and-downs he executed in the match.
Newsom took one of his five bogeys on the opening hole to immediately fall 1-down, and the next seven holes were halved with pars. Back-to-back birdies at 9 and 10, the only birdies in the finals by either player, put Newsom ahead 1-up, but he bogeyed the long par-3 12thand long par-4 13thto again fall 1-down. Royak converted a clutch up-and-down to win the 12thand holed a key par putt at the 13thto regain the lead.
Royak alternated between routs and narrow victories in his march to the finals, beginning with an 8&7 romp in his opening match. As in the finals, he did not make a birdie in his opening match, but did not need one. He parred all 11 holes, winning easily when his opponent made eight bogeys.
In the first of his four narrow victories, Royak won 1-up in the second round, but never trailed in the match and was tied at the end of only two holes.
Royak faced a familiar foe in the third round – Roswell’s Billy Mitchell, the 2016 Georgia Senior Open champion. Royak won 2&1 in a match that had several momentum swings, but one in which Royak never trailed. Royak won holes 3, 4 and 5 to take a quick 3-up lead, but Mitchell took the next two holes. Royak again went 3-up by winning holes 11 and 12, before Mitchell carded back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14 to again close within one hole. But Royal won the 15thand preserved his win a well-played match with pars at 16 and 17.
That put Royak in the quarterfinals for the first time in a USGA event, and it didn’t take long for him to reach the semifinals. He won the first five holes and went on to a 6&5 victory, losing just one hole.
Royak needed 21 holes to win his semifinal match, staying alive with some clutch play in the latter stages. He trailed for only one hole, but could never put any distance between himself and California’s Jeff Wilson, the tournament’s defending champion.
A par at the 14thgave Royak a 1-up lead, and he holed a clutch par putt at 16 to stay in front. Wilson birdied 17 to tie the match, and Royak needed an up-and-down par save at 18 to force extra holes. Wilson reached the par-5 first hole, the playoff opener, for a two-putt birdie, and Royak needed a precise wedge shot and 5-foot putt for a matching birdie.
A brief rain shower halted the playoff for about 15 minutes, with Royak winning on the third extra hole when Wilson missed a short par putt after Royak was unable to convert an excellent birdie chance.
In the 36-hole qualifier, Royak tied for 30th, coming back with a 72 after an opening 77 for a 149 total. Royak, who was seeded 31stin the 64-player field, made a modest 13 birdies over his 134 holes covering six days and seven rounds of golf, but made just 16 bogeys, and was behind for only a few holes the entire week.
With his victory, Royak earns an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Senior Open, and is likely to be paired with Steve Stricker and Bernhard Langer in the first two rounds. This will be his third start in the event. He also gets into the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September, an event he recently failed to qualify for, losing in a playoff for the last spot. He also gets into next two U.S. Amateurs. Royak played in college at the University of Tampa and is a member at St. Ives CC.
The U.S Senior Amateur final was almost an all-Georgia match, as McDonough’s Rick Cloninger reached the semifinals before losing 1-up to Newsom. Cloninger who won the 1999 Georgia Amateur and the GSGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2001 and ’02 before moving to South Carolina, is back in the state and competing in GSGA events.
In an all-Georgia first round match, Cloninger defeated Savannah’s Jack Hall, who won the GSGA Senior in 2013 and the Mid-Am in 2015, 4&2. Cloninger was 1-up through 11 holes with 10 halves before winning three of the next five, two with birdies.
Cloninger won his second match 4&3, losing just one hole, and jumped out to a 3-up lead after five holes in the third round, winning 5&3. He was 3-up after 14 holes in the quarterfinals and won 2&1 before losing to Newsom. Cloninger was 2-up after 11 holes but made four bogeys over the final six holes and lost all four, winning the 15thto lead for the last time in the match.
In qualifying, Cloninger tied for 12that 146 and was seeded 13th.
Mitchellalso shot 146 in qualifying and was seeded 15th. He won his first match 2&1 and came back from 3-down after five holes to win 3&1 in the second round. He won holes 10,11 and 12 to go 1-up and halved the 14thwith a birdie before winning holes 16 and 17.
Hanzel, who has won three GSGA Senior titles and a Mid-Am Championship in addition to his USGA Senior title, shared medalist honors with two others at 142, but drew the third seed. Hanzel, a Savannah doctor, jumped out to an early lead and won his first round match 4&3 before losing 1-up after leading 1-up with two holes to play.,
Chris Hall of Marietta (no relation to Jack), a two-time GSGA Senior champion, lost his first round match 4&3 after being all square after 10 holes. Hall was the 30thseed after shooting 149 in qualifying.