Blair wins first SCGA Senior Amateur title
After 298 entries, 54 holes of competition, a plethora of drama and a dash of history, the 2016 SCGA Senior Amateur Championship came down to two men vying for their first title at Wilshire CC.
Robert Blair emerged victorious after he and John Pate battled it out over a five-hole playoff stretch. For the first time in SCGA Championship history, the title was awarded after the initial three-hole aggregate playoff did not determine a champion.
“It was exhausting,” said Blair. “I had a chance to win during those three holes a couple of separate times, but just couldn’t make the putt. John being the seasoned player he is, he wasn’t going to give an inch.”
Pate found himself in a T-2 after a first round 1-under 70 and followed that up with an even-par 71 in the second round.
Pate placed runner-up in last year's event, finishing just 1 stroke behind defending champion Gary Vanier who carded six birdies in seven holes for a one shot victory.
But, during the final round this year, Pate was a model of consistency and highlighted his resiliency with a final round of 2-under 69. Pate came out firing on all cylinders. He birdied No. 5, 8 and 9 before making the turn 3-under for the day.
After bogeying No. 10, Pate bounced back with an impressive birdie on the par-3 13th to pull back in a tie for the lead. Then, after driving the ball straight all day, Pate pushed a drive out of bounds on No. 14 and carded a double-bogey. Undeterred, Pate bounced back with consecutive birdies on No. 15 and 16 before dropping a shot on No. 17 and pulling into the clubhouse at 2-under for the tournament.
The eventually champion, Blair was also in a T-2 after the first round, but catapulted into the lead with his blistering 3-under 68 in the second round which included a back-nine 4-under 32 and a stretch of four birdies in six holes.
“The first two rounds, I couldn’t hit the ball any better,” said Blair. “I missed four greens in two days. I was obviously very happy with that.”
Sleeping on the lead overnight, Blair began his final round a bit shaky, maybe due to a lack of rest.
“I woke up at 1 a.m. and didn’t go back to sleep until about 4 a.m.,” said Blair. “Maybe that had something to do with it.”
After going 2-over through the first three holes, he got himself on track with a birdie on No. 7. Making the turn at 1-over for the day, Blair bogeyed No. 14, but bounced right back with a birdie on the short par-4 15th.
Standing on the final tee with a one shot lead, Blair smashed his drive down the middle but it funneled a few yards too far and left himself with a tricky second shot over a batch of palm trees. Blair hooked a 9-iron into the green but it felt a few yards short and shot over the back of the green. From 80 feet, Blair needed to get up and down. After leaving his first attempt 10 feet short, Blair was unable to convert and the duo went to a playoff.
In the three-hole aggregate playoff on No. 16, 17 and 18 neither player succumbed to the pressure and finished tied. Per SCGA rules, the playoff then became sudden death and the players moved to No. 17.
After both players roped drives down the center cut, the duo each found the green. Pate had a 20-foot putt for birdie and Blair was staring down an 8 footer. However, neither converted and the playoff went to No. 18.
Two good drives and each player had a short-iron in to the green. After Blair put his approach in the right rough, Pate was unable to capitalize and pulled his iron in the hazard on the left side of the green. Blair was able to bogey and seal the victory.
“I’m just so happy that I held up,” said Blair. “I thought it was mentally tougher than physically out there.”
Wilshire CC hosted the first-ever SCGA Senior Amateur and on it’s 39th anniversary, this year’s champion seems like a match made in golf heaven.
“This course is made for me. It’s short, tight and tricky,” said Blair. “And I’m short, straight and tricky. So, it obviously fit my game.”