Jeff Wilson is no stranger to USGA events, especially playing as an amateur. The 51-year-old Northern California resident qualified for his second consecutive U.S Senior Open when he shot 68 at his home course, Green Valley Country Club, on June 23.
But unlike last year when Wilson shot a pair of 74’s to miss the cut by two strokes at Omaha Country Club, the University of Pacific graduate fired an opening round 70 en route to making his first cut at a non-amateur USGA event since 2000.
“This year I had a pretty good feeling that if I did what I can do, I could finish up in the top-25,” Wilson said. “It didn’t quite work out that way. I played really well the first round but I made a lot of mistakes the last three rounds.”
Wilson followed up his opening-round one-under par total with a 76, joining Mike McCoy as the only amateurs to play the weekend at Oak Tree National. But rounds of 73 and 75 on Saturday and Sunday dropped Wilson into a tie for 49th, losing low amateur honors to McCoy by three shots.
“It was disappointing not to get it,” Wilson said. “But I think what was more disappointing was that I didn’t feel like I executed as well as I could have.
“I made a ton of bogeys and a lot of them were from the middle of the fairway,” he said.
Still, the finish adds to his remarkable amateur resume. Since leaving the then Nike Tour, now Web.com Tour, to join his family’s automobile business in 1994, Wilson has played in two U.S. Opens, including the 2000 event at Pebble Beach where he was the lone amateur to make the cut.
Wilson has been medalist in three U.S. Mid-Amateur championships, and he says his best golf was played four years ago at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash. when he carded the second lowest stroke play round (62) in U.S. Amateur history. But this past week at Oak Tree was a different and gratifying experience.
Oak Tree resident and seven-time PGA TOUR winner Gil Morgan joined Wilson’s group on Monday, providing helpful tips that Wilson says were important factors, especially for his play on Thursday.
“His experience and information were invaluable,” Wilson said.
Wilson also mentioned another name, Jim Kane, a former PGA TOUR player who caddied for another Northern California man, Shawn McEntee, while at Oak Tree.
“He provided me with some of the best information out there,” Wilson said. “Just walking around and talking to those guys who have been out there for a long time.”
Areas to avoid off the tee were where Wilson says both Morgan and Kane provided the best advice, specifically the fairway bunker on the par-four 16th, a trap in which both Colin Montgomerie and Gene Sauers found during Sunday’s three-hole playoff, leading to bogeys.
“There’s a bunker out there on the right that looks like your target area but they both said that you have to be careful of that bunker,” Wilson said.
“They said, ‘It’s a ball magnet. You have to stay away from it. The left trees are better because you can’t hit the green from that right bunker.'”
Wilson played the 16th one-under during his four days, including a birdie on Thursday.
Wilson’s next attempt at a USGA championship will be on July 28 at San Luis Obispo Country Club when he’ll attempt to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, being held this year at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. Wilson made it through stroke play at the 2012 and 2013 events, losing in the Round of 64 both times.