Overbrookâ€™s Thompson triumphant in 11th Brewer Cup
SPRING HOUSE, Pa.- Raymond Thompson and his free-swinging game are widely respected around the region. His playing accomplishments at the Senior level read like a short novel at this point.
Thompson has now garnered the ultimate Senior Division prize. The Overbrook Golf Club member finished off his career Senior Grand Slam with a victory in the Brewer Cup presented by Callaway Golf at Old York Road Country Club (par 71, 6,387 yards). Thompson defeated Wilmington Country Clubâ€™s Steve Walczak in the Final, 2 up, for the hardware Wednesday.
â€śOut of nowhere, on the back nine, the thought of the [career Grand Slam] popped into my head. Iâ€™m not sure how, or why, but it did,â€ť said Thompson, 66, of Drexel Hill, Pa. â€śI had to consciously tell myself to stop thinking about it. Itâ€™s amazing to think about.â€ť
Two battles â€“ one against an accomplished local product and one against an international Senior phenom, equated to the Brewer Cup victory in just his second-ever appearance in the match play championship.
In the morningâ€™s semifinal session, Thompson took down reigning eight-time Senior Player of the Year Chip Lutz in a clash of titans. He defeated Lutz, the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur Champion, 5&4. Extra motivation was lingering for Thompson, as the semifinal match was a replay of the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur quarterfinals, where Lutz defeated Thompson, 4&3, at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C.
â€śIâ€™ve played against Chip enough to know that you better bring your A-game when you go up against him. Today I had mine, but he didnâ€™t,â€ť said Thompson, who went 2-under thru 14 in the semifinal showdown.
Teeing off just after noon, Thompson and Walczak began their joust. The early momentum swung in Walczakâ€™s way as the 2015 GAP Senior Amateur winner clawed to a 1-up edge thru six holes. From there on out, it was Thompsonâ€™s time to shine.
A short Walczak miss for par on No. 7 (par 4, 402 yards) leveled the match. On No. 8 (par 4, 328 yards), Thompson perfectly pured an 8-iron from 155 yards out, leading to a five-foot birdie conversion for the 1-up advantage â€“ one heâ€™d take thru the turn.
â€śThose two holes were important, for sure, but Iâ€™ve played enough match play to know that being 1-up doesnâ€™t necessarily mean much. Itâ€™s never safe,â€ť he said.
Another back-to-back stretch of wins is exactly what the doctor ordered to ease his leading doubt. On No. 11 (par 4, 390 yards), Thompsonâ€™s wedge approach from 139 yards out, nestled in a squirrely lie, came to rest 15 feet away from the cup. Heâ€™d roll that one over the front lip. Next, on the par 4, 352-yard 12th, Thompson made 4 and benefitted from a Walczak par miss from three feet. The match moved 2-up, Thompson.
A door would be slightly cracked open on the 17th (par 4, 412 yards), when both players struggled with the sloping front hole location. Thompson, putting from 20 feet downhill for birdie, went on to roll that look off the front of the green and ultimately took a double bogey. Walczak, playing from the front grass, got in for 5. The match moved on to the 18th tee with a lead now at 1-up, Thompson.
Walczak stepped up first, booming his drive down the left center of the short stuff. Thompson pushed his way out to the right, past the double trees, leaving him with a decent angle. From 149 yards out, Thompson hit it over dangling branches with a wedge. The contact was clean and flirted with the green, but the ball trickled into the left greenside bunker.
Next up, Walczak flew a wedge over the flagstick and onto the back collar. His birdie attempt from 40 feet took a large hop off the face and rested short. Thompson stoically blasted his sand shot to six feet, giving Walczak a chance to send the match to extras. Walczak couldnâ€™t get that par putt to fall from eight feet, tipped his hat and shook hands with the champion.
â€śI couldnâ€™t get down to the ball on the birdie putt, but it was a tough putt that I didnâ€™t feel comfortable with. I shouldnâ€™t have hit it there,â€ť said Walczak, 61, of Greenville, Del. â€śRay is a great champion. It was nice to be somewhere close to him at the end of the day. Iâ€™m proud to have gotten this far this week and thereâ€™s a ton of golf left to be played this summer.â€ť
â€śI got a little lucky [on No. 18], which you have to do sometimes in match play,â€ť said Thompson. â€śI love to compete against players like Steve.â€ť
The win marks the first GAP Senior Major victory since 2013 for the Overbrooker. He says itâ€™s a long time coming, especially after a number of close calls and runner-up finishes.
â€śNow that I think of it, this is the first one in a long time,â€ť said Thompson while reflecting on his trophy case.
Thompsonâ€™s Senior career accomplishments take awhile to sift through: two Francis B. Warner Cup victories (2007, 2009), a Frank H. Chapman win (2007), two Senior Amateur Championship titles (2007, 2011) and a Senior Silver Cross Awards (2007, 2011, 2013). Those Major wins overshadow his solid runs in USGA championships, or even the Senior Four-Ball trophy Thompson took home alongside clubmate Oscar Mestre in 2017. A BMW Philadelphia Amateur victory in 1972 only adds to the case.
Now, you can check off â€śSenior Grand Slam Championâ€ť on that seemingly endless list.
â€śThis is a really special win, to be honest with you,â€ť said Thompson. â€śThis is only my second time playing in the event because itâ€™s tough to take off three days in a row. Winning Mr. Brewerâ€™s event means a lot. He is one of the best amateurs to play in the Philly area along with [R. Jay Sigel, William Hyndman, III, and Buddy Marucci]. For sure, heâ€™s one of the best ever.â€ť
While Thompson reflects on past GAP legends, he continues to build on his own personal legacy. Itâ€™s one he hopes to build on in the coming years â€“ and even later in 2018.
â€śGolf is really important to me,â€ť said Thompson. â€śI can still hit the ball well but Iâ€™m not getting any younger. Iâ€™m running out of years, so I have to start taking advantage of it while I can.â€ť
The Brewer Cup is named in honor of O. Gordon Brewer, Jr., the former president of Pine Valley Golf Club. He is a two-time U.S. Senior Amateur Champion and veteran of 42 USGA Championships. Heâ€™s captured two Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur Championship titles (1967, 1976), a GAP Senior Amateur Championship crown (1997) and a Senior Player of the Year (1997) as well as countless invitational titles. Seven years ago he was recognized for his contributions to the game with the USGAâ€™s Bob Jones Award.
2. Raymond Thompson, Overbrook GC d. 4. Steven Walczak, Wilmington CC, 2 up
4. Steven Walczak, Wilmington CC d. 9. Ken Phillips, Lancaster CC, 2 up
2. Raymond Thompson, Overbrook GC d.3. Chip Lutz, LedgeRock GC, 5&4
Golf Association of Philadelphia