Serrao, Pulk Advance to Final at 72nd VSGA Senior Amateur

vsgaBy Chris Lang

HOT SPRINGS – When Steve Serrao sank the winning par putt in his semifinal match at the 72nd Virginia State Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship Thursday, he didn’t celebrate with a scream or a wild fist pump. Instead, he tossed his putter to the 18th green at The Omni Homestead’s Cascades Course, took off his hat, and shook his head.

“I was just so relieved,” he said.

Advancing to the championship’s title match is no easy task. On one of the toughest golf courses in Virginia—if not the country—it requires playing seven rounds in five days and finding the resolve to withstand some pretty tough competition. As Serrao said, by the time one reaches the semifinal round on Thursday, “it’s a battle of nerves.”

Midlothian’s Serrao (Willow Oaks CC) and Williamsburg’s Dave Pulk (Two Rivers CC) navigated those conditions the best, and they’ll meet in Friday morning’s championship match. The first tee shot is scheduled to be struck at 8 a.m.

Serrao, the No. 4 seed, knocked out Virginia Beach’s Jeffrey Flax in the quarterfinals Thursday morning before surviving a back-and-forth semifinal with No. 32 seed Phil Mahone (Farmington CC). Pulk, the No. 7 seed, emerged from the loaded lower bracket, defeating 2017 Senior Amateur champion Rich Buckner in the morning before holding off Virginia Beach’s Roger Newsom 1 up in the afternoon.

Both players are making their first appearance in the Senior Amateur final, but both have won VSGA titles in the past. Serrao was part of the winning side at last year’s VSGA Senior Four-Ball Championship, and in 1984, he won the VSGA Junior Stroke Play title. Pulk owns victories in the Senior Open of Virginia and VSGA Senior Stroke Play Championship.

“This is one of my best accomplishments as a golfer,” Serrao said. “The field, this golf course, the people who have won this tournament … it really does mean a lot to me.”

A semifinalist in the 2016 Senior Amateur at the Cascades, Pulk said he was thrilled to get another shot at winning this championship for the first time.

“It’s great,” Pulk said. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had to make to the finals. I’m not getting any younger. I’m 63. These guys are young and hit it pretty good. Steve’s a great player, I’m sure we’ll have a great match tomorrow. Hopefully we both play well and it’ll be exciting.”

Serrao won the first two holes of his semifinal with Mahone before Mahone chipped in for birdie on No. 3 to get back into the match. Serrao admitted he was a little rattled at that turn of events, and after that, the match was tight as could be, with neither player taking more than a 1-up edge. The players came to the par-3 18th tied.

Mahone’s tee shot was long but on the green, and Serrao left his tee shot below the hole on the apron. Mahone was first to putt, and he left the putt about six feet short, leaving him incredulous.

“I couldn’t believe how slow it was,” Mahone said. “It’s usually lightning going down there. You’re just trying to keep it on the green. It was so slow.”

Serrao’s putt ended up in tap-in range, leaving Mahone a putt to extend the match. Mahone’s par putt was one roll short, and sat agonizingly on the lip of the hole.

“That’s the first time all I week I can remember that gravity didn’t take over,” Mahone said. “Down the hill? I mean … I’m disappointed right now.”

Pulk came to 18 with a 1-up lead on Newsom, who earlier defeated Keith Decker in a thrilling 19-hole match. Newsom was first to hit and left his tee shot buried in the right greenside bunker. Pulk watched that shot intently, then admitted he overcompensated and hit the ball too far left, leaving him well below the green in the rough.

Pulk was first to hit his approach and lofted a perfect pitch that settled two feet from the hole. Unfazed, Newsom escaped the bunker and then drained a 40-foot par putt to add a little pressure to Pulk’s putt.

“Downhiller from two feet,” Pulk said. “It was miss-able.”

But Pulk cleaned it up to win the match and secure his spot in the final.

“I played good all day today, both in the morning and the afternoon,” Pulk said. “I struck the ball pretty well and made some key putts when I had to. Just good competitive matches all day.”

Lang is the editor of Virginia Golfer magazine and the VSGA’s manager, digital media.

72nd VSGA Senior Amateur Championship

At The Omni Homestead Resort (Cascades), Hot Springs
Par 70, 6,360 yards

Wednesday’s round-of-32 matches

#32 Phil Mahone (Charlottesville) def. #1 Buck Brittain (Tazewell), 2 and 1
#16 Bob Bailey (Yorktown) def. #17 Jimmy Jones (Newport News), 19 holes
#8 Robert Slavonia (Middleburg) def. #25 Tony Mitchum (Chesapeake), 4 and 3
#24 Tim Vigotsky (Centreville) def. #9 Stephen Whitfield (Virginia Beach), 3 and 2
#4 Steve Serrao (Midlothian) def. #29 Neil Davis (Charlottesville), 2 up
#13 Jeffrey Klatt (Manassas) def. #20 Frank Leyes (Boones Mill), 3 and 1
#28 Jeffrey Flax (Virginia Beach) def. #5 Scott Reisenweaver (Midlothian), 1 up
#12 David Price (Hillsboro) def. #21 Leon Roday (Henrico), 3 and 2
#2 Rich Buckner (Gainesville) def. #31 John Lombardozzi (Herndon), 3 and 2
#18 John Steele (Boyds) def. #15 Scott Pultz (Hamilton), 1 up
#7 Dave Pulk (Williamsburg) def. #26 John Kinder (Quinton), 3 and 1
#10 Marc Hogan (Woodberry Forest) def. #23 Jay Serrao (Virginia Beach), 3 and 1
#3 Keith Decker (Martinsville) def. #30 Skip Zobel (Virginia Beach), 2 up
#19 Donnie Hankins (Bristol) def. #14 Greg Bales (Richmond), 2 and 1
#6 Roger Newsom (Virginia Beach) def. #27 Carlos Aranda (Alexandria), 6 and 5
#11 Robert Nussey (Midlothian) def. #22 Greg Kozy (Clifton), 3 and 1

Wednesday’s round-of-16 matches

#32 Mahone def. #16 Bailey, 5 and 3
#8 Slavonia def. #24 Vigotsky, 1 up
#4 Serrao def. #13 Klatt, 4 and 3
#28 Flax def. #12 Price, 3 and 2
#2 Buckner def. #18 Steele, 1 up
#7 Pulk def. #10 Hogan, 3 and 2
#3 Decker def. #19 Hankins, 3 and 2
#6 Newsom def. #11 Nussey, 5 and 4
Thursday’s quarterfinal matches
#32 Mahone def. #8 Slavonia, 3 and 2
#4 Serrao def. #28 Flax, 3 and 1
#7 Pulk def. #2 Buckner, 3 and 1
#6 Newsom def. #3 Decker, 19 holes

Thursday’s semifinal matches

#4 Serrao def. #32 Mahone, 1 up
#7 Pulk def. #6 Newsom, 1 up

Friday’s championship match

#4 Serrao vs. #7 Pulk, 8 a.m.

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