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NORTON, Massachusetts – When Massachusetts amateurs Jim Patterson and Doug Clapp qualified for the U.S. Senior Open last month at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, their stories were completely different. Patterson, of Southhampton, qualified for his first-ever USGA event. Clapp, of Walpole, qualified for his 17th USGA event, his first being back in 1998.
Now, both men will have the opportunity to experience a national open for the first time, as they’ll compete in the U.S. Senior Open this Thursday-Sunday at Omaha Country Club (par-70, 6,891-yards) in Nebraska.
Patterson, the “rookie” between the two, will hit one of the first tee shots. He’s in the first group from Hole 1, with their tee time set for 8:15 a.m. ET on Hole 1 Thursday. The more seasoned Clapp will tee off from Hole 10 at 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday. Worcester professional Fran Quinn, Jr. will be 10 groups behind Patterson, teeing off on Hole 1 at 8:49 Thursday morning. The field of 156 players will play 18 holes of stroke play on Thursday and Friday, after which the field will be reduced to the low 60 scores and ties.
Learn more about how both are preparing to compete in Omaha.
Jim Patterson doesn’t actually play a whole lot of golf. As an air conditioning contractor, he’s happy if he can make it onto the course to play one or two times a week. More recently, with the biggest event he’s ever played in looming, those practice habits had to change.
“I’m playing two or three times a week now,” Patterson said. “I’m really trying to make this a commitment to get there in prime form and peak at the right time if there’s such a thing for any amateur that’s got a real job.”
He arrived in Omaha on Monday, July 5, and immediately began to familiarize himself with the course and how it’ll play.
Patterson has used the practice rounds to map the course and make some notes to develop a game plan.
“Really learning the greens I think is going to be important,” he said. “Knowing where to miss, where not to miss, and hopefully come up with something that’s going to be simple and workable.”
The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Patterson’s local course, was the perfect place for him to fine-tune his putting skills ahead of the event. The Orchards greens are currently rolling at 12 on the Stimpmeter, so Patterson has seized as many chances as he could to practice putting before he left.
In addition to his physical game, Patterson has also been considering his mental approach in the weeks leading up to the event. Not only is the event going to be his first USGA experience, it will also be his first time playing competitive golf outside of the New England region. Patterson listed Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, John Daly, and Tom Lehman as just a few of the many golfers he’s excited to rub shoulders with when play gets underway.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime as a golfer to get to participate in a [senior] major with other tour players,” he said. “I haven’t slept a lot in the last couple of weeks. A lot of thoughts go through your mind.”
Patterson said he’s keeping his mindset centered on staying calm on the big stage. He noted that playing in Mass Golf events with hyper-competitive fields has benefited his focus and mindset.
“I’m trying not to think about it that deep, but I’m sure when that moment comes, it will be hard to put the ball on the tee,” Patterson said.
Patterson’s goal for the week is to make the cut, and he’ll have a handful of family members and friends cheering for the same. He’ll also be thinking about his late golf instructor Tom Sullivan. Sullivan was killed last year in a thunderstorm at Wyantenuck Country Club and Patterson credits his teachings for helping him get to this stage.
“Tommy’s teachings the last few years really changed my approach on the golf course when it comes to scoring, which is what he was really kind of hammering down on me,” Patterson said. “I try not to pay attention to the score, but really just hole-by-hole, finish a hole, put it behind you, make birdie on the next one. I will definitely be drawing on his experience and what he gave to me in my time with him.”
All events are important and hold their own level of pedigree, but the Senior Open may very well be the biggest and among the most imposing event Doug Clapp has ever participated in.
“It’s the type of thing that I’ve wanted to be able to do since I turned 50,” said Clapp, 54. “I think it’ll be fun just hitting the golf shots one by one. It’ll be one to remember.”
In preparation for the event, Clapp has relied on his Mass Golf network to prepare. He’s been in touch with Don Reycroft, who played in the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha CC to collect some golf course tips. Clapp has also had conversations with Thorny Lea member Shannon Johnson who’s from the Midwest and has played Omaha CC numerous times. He also played a practice round with Worcester professional Fran Quinn, Jr. Andy Drohen, one of Clapp’s four-ball playing partners, will be serving as his caddie.
“I haven’t really ever gone out and played in front of a bunch of people,” Clapp said. “Game-wise, it’s the same sort of thing I do to prepare for tournaments like the Mid-Amateur. It’s a lot of extra wedge work, extra bunker work, stuff that’s going to save you that crucial shot in a competition that you might not be that focused on in a Saturday morning round with buddies.”
Those close to him have prepared him for keeping his emotions in check when the event does get underway.
“The guys that I’ve talked to, friends of mine who have gone and done this before, they’ve said the same thing, ‘Once you get there, you don’t feel out of place,'” Clapp said. “It takes all shapes and sizes, especially when you get older like this. I don’t really expect to feel like a fish out of water there.”
— Andy Drohen (@BirdieManAndy) July 5, 2021
Clapp, like Patterson, is also hoping to advance through to play four rounds of golf and he will have support coming from all directions. Clapp, who graduated from Amherst College and then moved on to Boston College Law School, will see his college roommate as well as a close friend from law school in addition to family support.
“I’m going to be having fun while I do it,” Clapp said. “You never know when your last one is going to show up, so make the most of it just from a fun standpoint.”
Clapp and Patterson didn’t know each other prior to the Thorny Lea qualifier, but the two have been in touch since are will be rooting for each other.
“I’ll definitely invite him over to the house and we’ll have a barbecue or something one night and get everybody together,” Clapp said. “That’s always a good time. I know for sure we’ll play [a practice round] Wednesday morning together, and that’ll be fun.”
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