Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: Lessons learned by first-time entrant at U.S. Senior Open

Vince Buzzini learned firsthand the difficulty of the walk from the practice range to the first tee at a United States Golf Association event.

Buzzini, a 1981 graduate of Manteca High School, qualified for the U.S. Senior Open last week at Sacramento’s Del Paso Country Club. Just getting there was a big deal for the plus-1 handicapper from Palm Desert.

But earning one of the 156 tournament berths – and being one of 27 amateurs in the field – and succeeding against the best 50-and-older seniors in the world are two different things. Buzzini exited the stage after rounds of 80 and 81 in temperatures which exceeded 100 degrees both days.

“I have to own up to it. I was a little nervous,” Buzzini said. “My caddie said I didn’t look nervous, but trust me, inside I was in turmoil.”

Buzzini, 51, put together a solid game plan for his first USGA tournament: Find the fairway off the tee, aim for the middle of the greens, make a lot of pars and hopefully survive the 36-hole cut. He hit the ball long and strong over three practice rounds.

Then reality arrived.

“When it came to Thursday at 2:30 on the 10th tee and they announce your name, it hits you immediately – ‘I’m in the show,’” he said. “Playing in the club championships and invitationals doesn’t prepare you for that.”

Del Paso received rave reviews. The renovated layout played long and featured thick rough and fast greens, an old-school USGA test the players appreciated after they watched the sometimes comical U.S. Open the week before at Chambers Bay. It followed that the winner was Jeff Maggert, a veteran U.S. Open campaigner who’s paid more than his share of dues.

The consensus is that Del Paso has rejoined the rotation for future USGA events. A U.S. Women’s Open (Del Paso welcomed the Women’s Open in 1982) or another Senior Open would appear to be logical candidates. Better still, more than 100,000 spectators braved the heat and made the event a capital city hit.

“It was a really good USGA Open test,” Tom Watson, 65, said after his better-than-good tie for seventh (66-69-71-69 – 275).

Meanwhile, Buzzini won’t soon forget his USGA introduction. He had his moments. After hitting over the green at the par-3 second and taking a drop to a horrible lie, he flopped his pitch into the hole from about 60 feet for a memorable deuce.

“I’ve played Winged Foot and the Olympic Club the week after their U.S. Opens, and this was the toughest rough I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know I became a better player last week.”

Far from discouraged, he’s already plotting his way back to USGA events.

“I smiled all the way around, no matter what,” Buzzini said. “I stayed positive. Everyone there was amazing. That was a quality golf course. If I lived in Sacramento, I would join (Del Paso).

“The next time I’m in that situation, I’ll handle it much differently.”

The Shag Bag – Modesto’s Patrick Burda, the Modesto City runner-up earlier this month, caddied at the Senior Open for amateur Terry Foreman, a family friend. Foreman missed the cut (76-74 – 150). ... For the first time in the same year, three local boys have been selected to the Junior Golf Association of Northern California’s coveted travel teams. Central Catholic senior Matthew Robinson and Gregori junior Chris Ebster were named to the four-man Junior America’s Cup team that will compete in regional competition July 26-30 at Pine Canyon in Flagstaff, Ariz. Johansen senior Daniel Pena was named to the Hogan Cup team that will travel to Riverside CC in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 7-9. ... East Union senior Brooke Riley won her match and anchored the North’s 71/2-11/2 victory in the annual North-South Girls Championship last weekend at Quail Lodge. ... Robinson, Ebster and Pena are scheduled to play in the 63rd Bumgardner Junior Memorial, one of the JGANC’s premier events, Monday and Tuesday at Del Rio CC. Also in the field is Central Catholic sophomore Tyler Ward, who captured age-group titles at junior tournaments at Micke Grove in Lodi and Kings River CC in Kingsburg.

Hole in one – Chris Doll, Salida, 132-yard 11th at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 9-iron.