SAN ANTONIO—On a demanding course that taxed the nerves of most of the 144 players in the 78th Texas Senior Amateur, Mac McGee on Friday shot a beautiful 4-under-par 67 to stake a three-shot lead after the first round of the 54-hole championship.
The 61-year-old from Midland kept his game simple at historic Oak Hills Country Club, site of the inaugural PGA Tour Championship back in 1987 that was won by eight-time major champion Tom Watson. With its mercury-fast Champions Bermuda grass greens, thick rough and century-old live oaks flanking the fairways, Oak Hills requires the type of exactness from tee to green one would expect in a major amateur championship.
“You really, really have to keep the course in front of you,” said McGee, who owns an oil and gas production company in Midland. “You have to hit every fairway. I missed two fairways and bogeyed both holes.”
McGee made three bogeys in all, but they were offset by seven birdies. In last year’s Texas Senior Am, McGee finished tied for 22nd at Shady Oaks CC in Fort Worth. In 2012, he won the Senior Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y., and the Tower Invitational at Miramont Country Club in Bryan.
“I just got off to a good start today,” McGee said. “I birdied No. 10, my first hole, and then I chipped in for birdie on 12. From there, I just tried to stay positive and hit good shots.”
Mission accomplished. McGee was the only player in the 72-player morning wave to finish under par and only one of two to post red numbers on the day.
Ivan Lawson from Cypress was the other who claimed an under-par score. He’s in second place at 1-under 70. Lawson rolled in four birdies on the front nine but stumbled a bit with bogeys on two of his last three holes of the day.
“I’m very happy,” said Lawson, whose best finish in a TGA championship was the 2013 Texas Senior Amateur at Willow Brook CC in Tyler when he finished tied for 43rd. “I just hope I can keep it in the fairway tomorrow. That’s what I did today.”
The seniors played the par-71 Oak Hills CC at 6,590 yards in the first round. The scoring average – 80.01 or 9-over par – was indicative of the challenges the course presented to the field of the best senior amateurs (55 years and older) in Texas. Holes 11-13 ranked as the toughest; the 198-yard, par-3 13th was the most difficult and played to an average of 3.91.
McGee, not by coincidence, played that stretch of the course at 1-under par.
Mike Booker from the Woodlands made a valiant run a red numbers in the afternoon, but a three-putt bogey on his final hole left him at even-par 71, four shots behind McGee and in third place. Dallas resident Ken Coutant, the runner-up in last year’s Texas Senior Amateur won by Rob Kilby from McAllen, and Mickey Jones from Odessa are tied for fourth place at 1-over 72.
Booker, 60, won the 2013 Texas Mid-Amateur Match Play Championship at Oak Hills CC and has the supreme respect for the venue.
“It’s a brilliant design. I’ve never played a course that was more of a thinking man’s course, that’s for sure,” said Booker, who had three birdies and as many bogeys Friday. “You can’t fake it out here, and that’s the ultimate compliment for a championship golf course.”
Built in 1921 by the great A.W. Tillinghast, Oak Hills CC played host to the 2001 U.S. Amateur and the PGA Tour’s Texas Open from 1964-94. It also hosted the Champions Tour’s AT&T Championship from 2002-10.
The Texas Senior Amateur is the third of four annual TGA major championships. It also carries the most weight in terms of TGA Senior Player of the Year points. On Thursday, the eve before the first round, Booker picked up his 2014 Senior Player of the Year award.
As he does most years, Booker racked up a bevy of impressive results in 2014. He teamed with Irving’s Mike Peck to win the Senior Division of the Texas Four-Ball; Booker took fifth place and was Low Senior at the Texas Mid-Amateur; he finished second at the South Texas Senior Amateur and tied for sixth at last year’s Texas Senior Amateur at Shady Oaks CC in Fort Worth.
“It’s a wonderful feeling (to win the Player of the Year),” Booker said. “The TGA provides a great format for us to compete for something like that. Not every golfer gets to do that, and we don’t take it for granted.”
Booker, who also won the TGA’s 2012 Senior Player of the Year, recently played in the Senior British Amateur at Royal County Down in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. He also qualified for the U.S. Senior Amateur, set for Sept. 26-Oct. 1 at Hidden Creek GC in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
Katy’s Craig Rumora made a hole-in-one on the 182-yard 18th hole with a 7-iron. It was his sixth career ace, but his first in competition.
There are four Oak Hills CC members in the field, including Bobby Baugh, the reigning Senior Club Champion. He shot 3-over 74 to share a piece of ninth place. The other members are: Bruce Niles (6-over 77, tied for 33rd), Sam Cangelosi (7-over 78, tied for 43rd) and Mark Haugejorde (9-over 80, tied for 69th).
The second round of the Texas Senior Amateur begins Saturday at 8 a.m. For more information, including pairings, tee times and complete first round scoring, please click here