Lu Lu’s Clauson captures 48th Senior Amateur Championship
CINNAMINSON, N.J. — Mother Nature didn’t halt Christopher Clauson’s quest for Senior Amateur Championship gold this time.
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Withstanding oppressive heat and a feisty field, he seized the tournament’s 48th edition Wednesday at Riverton Country Club (par 71, 6,386 yards). Clauson carded a 1-over-par 72 in the final round to prevail by a stroke over groupmates Christopher Fieger, Sr. of Philadelphia Publinks GA and Joseph Russo of Running Deer Golf Club. Last year, he trailed clubmate Glenn Smeraglio by two strokes after Round One. Rain shortened the event to 18 holes, forcing Clauson to settle for second.
“It was an incomplete feeling last year,” Clauson, 62, of Philadelphia, Pa., said. “This is the first Golf Association of Philadelphia tournament that I’ve won. It’s nice. At Lu Lu, I won’t get heckled for being the only one who’s never won anything. I’ll get heckled for other things. I’ll get heckled for being a liberal.”
No heckling or politicking after Clauson’s campaign ended with the Lu Lu Country Club member standing at the podium, addressing his Allan Sussel Memorial Trophy constituents.
Clauson and Fieger started the day deadlocked atop the leaderboard at 3 under. Russo rounded out the final pairing, lurking at 2 under.
What he lacked in distance compared to his compatriots, Clauson made up for in consistency. He held a two-stroke advantage before a near unraveling on the par 4, 330-yard No. 8, which Clauson deemed a turning point. Clauson’s wedge from 115 yards came out heavy. His ensuing chip contained even more meat on the bone. Clauson somehow converted a stifling uphiller to save par. Fieger missed a three-footer for birdie to move to within one.
“Chris played great and made the putts he needed to make. I made some mental mistakes and had some three putts that hurt,” Fieger, 55, of Denver, Pa., said.
The clash of the Christophers seemed to fade after Clauson birdied the par 4, 427-yard 12th hole. As the adrenaline pulsated, Clauson hammered an 8-iron 155 yards to six feet. He annihilated a 5-iron on No. 14 (par 3, 188 yards) when the yardage demanded less substance. Clauson overcame the overcharged swing with a 30-footer for birdie. Fieger followed with a 25-footer of his own to remain two back.
After both players bogeyed the severe dogleg right 15th hole (par 4, 414 yards), the adrenaline resurfaced — this time for worse — on the next hole (par 3, 154 yards). Clauson launched an 8-iron into the back section of the left greenside bunker — an unwelcoming detention center.
“I knew it was dead in that spot. I knew I had to make 4 somehow,” Clauson said.
And he did. Clauson’s tedious sand shot slid down the back-to-front sloped green and settled in the rough. A delicate chip to a front left hole location fashioned a welcome 4. Riverton’s bunkering threatened to penalize Clauson once again on No. 17 (par 5, 476 yards). He deposited a 3-wood from 230 yards into the front left pit. A spectacular splash set up a six-footer for birdie. Fieger matched that score to remain one back. With adrenaline changing hands as rapidly as cash in a high-stakes poker game, he towered a drive over the left fairway bunkers, leaving a yardage of 190 for his second shot. Fieger blasted a 4-iron to 30 feet and narrowly missed his eagle effort on the high side.
On the 18th hole (par 4, 354 yards), Fieger split the fairway and knocked a gap wedge 115 yards to 25 feet above the flagstick. Clauson’s drive caught the right rough. A well-struck 54-degree wedge from 100 yards landed two feet from the hole and released to 28 feet due to the downhill slope. With honors, Clauson ran his birdie attempt eight feet past the cup — a common occurrence given his trouble with green speeds on this day. Clauson, however, made the comebackers on those occasions. He didn’t do so on No. 18.
Fieger knew what he needed to do to force a sudden-death playoff.
“[For my birdie putt], Chris was on a similar line. I watched him putt it eight feet by,” Fieger said. “I left mine three feet short. I actually thought the second putt was going to break left. It just stayed there.”
“It wasn’t a celebratory feeling; it was relief,” Clauson added. “I felt bad for him. You don’t want to win by someone missing a putt, but I’ll take it.”
After signing his scorecard, Clauson leaned back in his chair and lit his first cigarette in more than a year. A celebratory drag for a man who took care of unfinished business Wednesday.
“This is an alternate reality for my season this year. I didn’t start playing well until the U.S. Senior Amateur Qualifier [in July],” Clauson, runner-up in the 2016 Brewer Cup, said. “I figured something out two days ago [during a lesson with Scott Yurgalevich at Lu Lu]. That and the putter Mike Dynda gave me have been huge. This win feels great.”
Senior Silver Cross Award
Russo, who spent 25 years in law enforcement, filed a 3-over-par 287 total to edge two-time reigning winner Smeraglio. The Senior Silver Cross Award is presented to the player with the lowest aggregate score in the Francis B. Warner Cup (Gross), Frank H. Chapman Cup (Gross) and Senior Amateur Championship.
“You have to play consistent to beat these guys. Surprisingly, I managed to keep it together and played well,” Russo, 60, of Washington Township, N.J., said. “After we got down to the last four holes, I knew I wasn’t going to catch Chris [Clauson for the Senior Amateur]. I knew I had a shot or two lead on Glenn. I just didn’t want to make any mistakes. Winning the Senior Silver Cross Award is something I’ve never done before, something to look forward to next year.”
Golf Association of Philadelphia