Can a senior win a young man's game?
__TULSA, OKLA.--__It was a quaint little story and all, Tim Jackson, age 50, becoming the oldest medalist in the 109-year history of the U.S. Amateur Championship on Tuesday. And with a penalty stroke to boot! Betcha Walter Travis didn't have some John Paramor wanna be breathing down his neck back in 1908 when the then 46-year-old set the previous mark.
Yet after Jackson knocked off John Kostis, 5 and 4, in the first round of match play Wednesday afternoon at Southern Hills CC, setting up this morning's second-round tilt with Texas senior Charlie Holland, a simple yet thought-provoking question starts to enter the mind.
Can a man twice as old as every remaining player in the field, actually win this thing?
The gut response is, of course, no. The U.S. Amateur is a young man's game. No one older than 24 has won the championship in 16 years. No one older than 24 has been in the final in 11 years. No one older than 24 has reached the quarterfinals in two years, which doesn't sound all that long except when you realize that only once previously in the history of the USGA's oldest tournament has there been a two-year period where a mid-amateur golfer hasn't been among the last eight players left in the field in a given year. (The other time was 2001 and 2002.)
Still, when you listen to Jackson, a real-estate developer from Germantown, Tenn., you can't help but start to say to yourself that maybe this guy is different.
For one thing, his game seems to suit the course rather well. Given how firm and fast Southern Hills is playing this week, length off the tee isn't a real issue, which is good considering Jackson by his own admission is just an average-length hitter off the tee. What he has going for him, however, is the experience to know how to work his way around a championship-style course (this is his 13th Amateur after all).
"I probably am going to control my ball as good or better [than the rest of the field]," Jackson said Wednesday. "And I'm probably going to control my irons and think my way around as good as they're going to do."
Secondly, there is a confidence in Jackson's demeanor that's visible and well-deserved after his performance at the U.S. Senior Open last month. Competing in the event for the first time, Jackson found himself in the lead after 36 holes at Crooked Stick GC outside Indianapolis, a whole new world for an amateur.
"I have to go back to 1994 and 1995, back in that two-year time period where I probably was playing my best golf," Jackson said when asked when was the last time he was as comfortable on the golf course as he is now. "But I'll tell you, right now this is the most gratifying. I'm probably having more fun and enjoying it more at 50 years old than at 35 years old. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
Jackson can thank Mark Grace, his long-time instructor back in Tennessee, for much of the success he has already enjoyed. It was Grace who pestered Jackson about changing his putting grip from conventional to cross-handed. "He's been on me for five years to commit to going cross-handed," Jackson said. "He said, 'I just want you to commit to one full season and in October, we'll talk about it.' Well, I'm committed to it."
By going cross-handed, Jackson released some tension and allowed his shoulders to align more properly. "When you don't have to worry about alignment, all you have to worry about is speed," Jackson said of his work on the green. "And that's when you start making putts."
Jackson said he was nervous on the tee for his first-round match with Kostis, even more so than when he was playing in the Senior Open last month. He was aware medalists at the U.S. Amateur haven't fared well during their early-round matches.
"Really, the tournament started [yesterday], when you get to match play," said Jackson, who aside from winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title twice has reached the quarterfinals of the Amateur two times, in 1994 (losing to champion Tiger Woods) and 1995 (losing to finalist Buddy Marucci). "You try to avoid having expectations. You're objective is just to get through the first day and advance. Tomorrow is a whole other animal."
Yet maybe so is Jackson, in which case those in attendance at Southern Hills might very well be in for a memorable week.