by Ron Bellamy
Two friends who happen to be icons in Pacific Northwest amateur golf had similar philosophies Saturday in the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene Country Club.
“The goal here is to avoid train wrecks,” said Tom Brandes of Bellevue, Wash. “It’s get a number that gets you into match play.”
A round of even-par 72 on the 6,801-yard Eugene course is certainly a good start, and that was the number Brandes posted, as did his practice-round partner Pat O’Donnell of Happy Valley, Ore.
“You try not to get yourself knocked out of the championship right away,” O’Donnell said. “Don’t knock yourself out of it on the first round. You want to be a little conservative at times.”
After Sunday’s second round, the 156-player field will be reduced to the low 64 scores for match play that begins Monday. A playoff to solidify the final field is virtually inevitable.
Saturday’s first-round leader was Gregory Condon of Monte Vista, Colo., who shot a 5-under 67 on a day that only nine golfers finished under par. Brandes and O’Donnell, both of whom have been runners-up in the championship (Brandes in 2015, O’Donnell in 2013), will begin play Sunday tied for 10th in the stroke-play qualifier.
For Brandes, it’s been a big week. He graduated from Marist High School in Eugene, and when The Eugene Register-Guard published a story about his local background he heard from many old high school friends. On top of that, Saturday was both his 62nd birthday, and his 34th wedding anniversary with wife Susan.
The Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of Famer played a round that was “virtually mistake free,” with two birdies to offset a double bogey on the par 4 No. 3 hole – his 12th hole of the day, having started on the back nine – when he found two bunkers.
“It was boring golf,” Brandes said. “I love boring golf.”
With that in mind, he’d taken his 3-wood out of the bag and replaced it with a 3-iron. “In match play, if I get there, I’ll probably put the 3-wood back in because you might want to go for the par 5s and be a little more aggressive, because an eight doesn’t hurt you in match play,” Brandes said.
O’Donnell offset two bogeys with two birdies.
“It was pretty uneventful,” O’Donnell said.
Eight other Pacific Northwest golfers competed Saturday, and several put themselves in position to make the cut, unofficially projected at 10- or 11-over.
Jim McNelis of Gig Harbor shot a 2-over 74, and Eugene native Scott Hval, now of Portland, finished at 3-over 75.
Meanwhile, Brad Karns of Vancouver, Wash. shot 5-over 77, as did Brad Douglas of Redmond, Wash. Johnny Coppedge of Canby shot 8-over 80, as did Keith Norris of Redmond, Wash. Jerry Close of Moses Lake, Wash., shot 10-over 82.
The hard luck story was Larry Watts of Springfield, Ore., who coaches high school golf locally. Watts suffered a back injury on his fourth hole trying to dig a ball out of the rough. He managed to finish nine holes at 2-over but was forced to withdraw.
Ron Bellamy is the former columnist and sports editor of The Eugene Register-Guard. For past golf writings visit ronbwriter.com.