The only other time Gar Hamilton received a medal from the United States Golf Association was in 1976, when he topped the field in the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open.
The affable head professional didn't make it into the Open that year, but he will get his first chance to play in a major championship when he participates in the U.S. Senior Open, a major on the Champions Tour, later this month.
Hamilton shot a 72 at the Lockport Town and Country Club near Buffalo last week to finish first at sectional qualifying by one shot and earn yet another USGA medal.
Hamilton held his latest prize against the one he captured in 1976 and noticed how they hadn't changed that much over the years. There was another similarity as well
The prize he won 33 years ago was obtained at the Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., while his 2009 medal won in Lockport sends him on to play the Senior Open, ironically, at Crooked Stick. Hamilton couldn't be more thrilled.
Crooked Stick is a beast that Hamilton got to know back in the early 1970s when he was captain of the Indiana University golf team and he still returns frequently.
"I know the course well," Hamilton said. "I went to school in Bloomington. It's about 70 miles from there, but I played it a lot in the '70s and I've played once a year quite a few times since then and now."
Despite his familiarity with the course, Hamilton says it can be brutal, but he went through a stern test of golf just to get back to his old stomping grounds.
"It was a pretty treacherous course and the greens would have been running at about 13 and they were small and really knobby. I missed a 10-inch putt on the third hole," said Hamilton, adding that another factor made the Lockport course that much more difficult in last week's qualifier.
"I was in the last group. It started pouring on us about the 15th, then it quit a little," said Hamilton, who heard some thunder, as well.
"I wasted a couple of shots on 16 and 17, but then it was a nightmare, lightning and flooding over the greens on the last hole, so we couldn't play," said Hamilton, who estimates he waited well over an hour to finish on a par-3 of about 220 yards.
"I knocked a hybrid in there about 15 feet. I was the happiest guy," Hamilton said. "I rolled it up an inch and that was it."
Despite the soggy finish, Hamilton says his Lockport experience not only got him into the Senior Open, but also sends him to Crooked Stick with renewed confidence in his game. He's been trying to make some swing changes, but like many club pros he balances practice with other day-to-day duties.
"I finally started hitting the ball the way I've been attempting to do for a few years and, all of a sudden, I looked up and I stung it right down the pipe or at the jar about six times in pretty crucial situations, so that was good," he said.
If Hamilton has rediscovered his swing, there's no telling what might happen at Crooked Stick. A former PGA Tour player, he has won the Canadian PGA Club Professional Championship four times and the Canadian PGA Senior title once.
In 2002, Hamilton shot a 65 in the first round of the AT&T Canada Senior Open at Essex Golf and Country Club near Windsor and followed that up with a 69 to stay in contention going into the final round, where he shot another 69, despite a "hiccup" on the 10th hole.
Playing in a group with Tom Kite and Larry Nelson, Hamilton still managed a tie for seventh at 10-under against many of the Champions Tour players he will see at Crooked Stick.
Hamilton plans to spend plenty of time beating balls prior to the Senior Open and in this summer of youngsters such as Nick Taylor, Matt Hill and Samantha Richdale doing their country proud, it will be interesting to see what the seasoned veteran does in his first major.
Hockey, golf unite
Former Toronto Sun sports editor and hockey columnist Scott Morrison, now with Hockey Night In Canada, and son Mark, will host the Kathy Morrison Memorial Golf Classic with proceeds going to the Gerry and Nancy Pencer Brain Tumor Centre.
The tournament, which takes place Oct. 5 at Thornhill Golf and Country Club, includes golf, lunch, dinner, entertainment, prizes and a silent auction. Golf is $300 per player and $1,200 per foursome, while dinner-only tickets are $100. The event has a variety of sponsorships available.
For more information on registration and sponsorships, e-mail email@example.com.