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BROCKTON, Massachusetts – It was a day for the Massachusetts amateurs at the U.S. Senior Open Qualifier hosted at Thorny Lea Golf Club. Southampton native Jim Patterson (The Orchards Golf Club) shot a 2-under-par 68 to earn medalist honors and advance to the 41st U.S. Senior Open Championship at Omaha Country Club in Omaha, Nebraska, from July 8-11.
Grabbing the second and final qualifying spot was Walpole’s Doug Clapp (Old Sandwich Golf Club), who shot a 1-under 69 and defeated Stow’s John McNeill in a one-hole playoff to advance to the Championship Proper.
Wednesday’s event was the lone qualifier in New England this year. Entries are open to professionals and amateurs over the age of 50, and whose handicap index does not exceed 3.4. Last year, the U.S. Senior Open was cancelled due to COVID-19.
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With every shot he took Wednesday, Jim Patterson had his former golf instructor Tom Sullivan in his mind. Sullivan died last fall after being caught in a violent thunderstorm at Wyantenuck Country Club, but his impact lives on through Patterson and his other dedicated students.
“He took me on years ago, and he’s really the one that kind of gave me the effort to get out there,” said Patterson, 53, and member of The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley. “He said, ‘Just go play, you got the talent, just stay out of your own way and just play golf.’”
Patterson, save for a few hiccups down the stretch, was able to do just that as he punched his first-ever ticket to a USGA event. The Southampton native is an air conditioning contractor by trade and hasn’t had many breakthroughs in golf in recent years, which is why making the U.S. Senior Open is a dream come true.
“This is just emotional,” said Patterson, fighting back tears. “This is a bucket list item for me. I thought maybe I’d qualify for a U.S. Senior Amateur at some point, but U.S. Senior Open, never even on my radar. It’s incredible, it’s one of those tournaments you never think you’re going to get to as an amateur.”
Stacking the odds further against Patterson, he never played Thorny Lea prior to Wednesday. But it didn’t seem to matter as he made birdie on the first two holes and added another on the fifth to make the turn at 3-under. “Just getting a couple in right off the bat put me at ease a little bit and then just allowed me to kind of plot my way around the course.”
After a three-putt bogey on the 15th, he then flubbed shot out of the bunker on the 17th but was able to get up-and-down for bogey to keep his edge. However, he hit a perfect drive down the right side of the fairway on the 18th and hit to about 10 feet from the cup on his approach. With Sullivan still on his mind, Patterson could barely hold back the excitement when he tapped in for par to finish his round.
“The last lesson [we had] was his telling me ‘A-to-B, to green, to putt and just forget about the other stuff,’ and that was every shot until I finally put my golf ball in my bag and my hands were shaking like mad when I was done.”
After his round, text messages came flooding in from his fellow members at The Orchards, helping him make his accomplishment sink in more easily. Now, he said, he’s going to re-double his efforts to practice. One thing’s for sure, he’ll have Sullivan on his mind.
“It was really amazing to see how listening to someone with that kind of knowledge, you really put it to use,” Patterson said. “It was just a great day.”
The U.S. Senior Open will be the 17th time Doug Clapp competes in a USGA Championship Proper. His resume includes five U.S. Amateurs, eight U.S. Mid Amateurs, and three USGA Men’s State Team Championships. Now, he can add the U.S. Senior Open to that list.
“I’ve really been trying to qualify for this the last four years since I turned 50,” said Clapp, 54. “This will really be the first of its kind for me. These are guys I’ve spent a lifetime watching on television. This game has really given me a lot of great opportunities. This will just be another experience that I’ll cherish.”
After finishing their rounds, Clapp and John McNeill had to wait for other players to finish to see if anyone would beat their mark of 1-under. No one did and the two went into a playoff on the par-3 3rd. To his memory, Clapp had only lost one playoff in his career and it came on a par-3, but on Wednesday, he stepped up and sunk a putt when he needed to most.
Clapp put his tee shot onto the green and was able to two-putt for par, which bested McNeill’s mark of four.
“I got to make some reservations and it was nice to be back with some success,” Clapp said of his thoughts when the winning putt sank into the cup. “I came out here with some confidence, and I hit the tee ball well and that’s kind of the key for me. If I can hit the tee ball well, I’m probably going to score well.”
Clapp had his best stretch of golf in the middle of his round. He had four consecutive birdies from holes 8 to 11, which really helped him find his stride. That stretch included the course’s two par-5s: holes 8 and 11.
“You feel like you got to get them both,” Clapp said. “I was next to the green but short-sided myself on 8 and hit a really nice pitch just to a foot. Then, on 11, I actually had about a 16-or-18-footer uphill for eagle, so I left it just short and that ended up being a tap-in. I made my one bomb today on the 9th, about a 40-footer with 10 feet of break. So, the round had a little bit of everything for sure.”
And now, he can pack his bags for Nebraska in July as he’ll be a USGA participant for the 17th time.
QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
(a) Jim Patterson (Southampton, MA); (-2); 68
(a) Doug Clapp* (Walpole, MA); (-1); 69
ALTERNATES (In Order)
(a) John Mcneill (Stow, MA); (-1); 69
–(a) Denotes Amateur
*Won in playoff
Over 40 years since its inception, the U.S. Senior Open continues to draw significant interest from players across the globe. In 2021, the USGA accepted 2,999 entries into the tournament, the third-highest mark ever in 41 years of event history. All 50 states had applicants and host state Nebraska saw 22 players enter their names into the field of nearly 3,000. In addition to those numbers within the United States, 41 foreign countries also had entries for this year’s event.
Qualifying is spread across 34 sites and the requirements to gain entry into the field are simple: the applicant must be a pro or amateur player, their handicap index may not exceed 3.4 and their age must be at least 50 years old. Of the 2,999 entries, the first player to enter their name and get accepted into the field happened to be, Doug Clapp. He submitted his application on February 24. Chris Germann (Austin, Texas) was the final person to get into the field, submitting his entry at 4:56 p.m. on May 12, just four minutes before the final deadline.
The first-ever U.S. Senior Open was won by Robert De Vicenzo. He beat out William Campbell by 4 strokes to win the inaugural open at 57 years old. Allen Doyle won the Open at age 57 in 2006 to tie De Vicezno for the oldest champion of all time. After the initial year of play, the USGA lowered the age minimum for seniors from 55 years old to 50 years old.
In the 2019 U.S. Senior Open at Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, the last time the event was played, two representatives from the state of Massachusetts competed in the tournament. Kirk Hanefeld (South Hamilton) and Fran Quinn, Jr. (Holden) each played their way into the event through qualifying round performances. Hanefeld had a 1-under 71 at the Oyster Harbors Club in Osterville to punch his ticket, and Quinn shot a 4-under-67 at Worthington Hills Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.
Hanefeld finished tied for 51st, shooting 5-over total. Quinn finished up his four rounds 3-under-par with a four-round total of 277 to place in the top 15.
Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, Massachusetts was a perfect site to hold U.S. Senior Open qualifying, as the club has a long history of hosting prestigious events and seeing highly skilled golfers walk through its doors. The list of successful players who held or hold membership at Thorny Lea includes:
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