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Max-imum Overdrive - Defending Champions Buckley & Christiana Lead International Field into Anderson Memorial Semifinals at Winged Foot

By: Jay Flemma


You better hope that the getaway car Westchester Country Club's Max Christiana and Max Buckley are driving has a super turbo boost because the cops will be looking for them after seeing what they did to mighty Winged Foot in the 78th Anderson Memorial tournament.

It's downright criminal, I tell ya! First the tandem carded a pair of 66s in qualifying. You're not allowed to do that to Winged Foot. There are signs everywhere. It's the 11th Commandment or something. "Thou shalt not kill," "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," and "thou shalt not make Winged Foot look like a Quad Cities Open venue," but that's what the defending champions did, posting a sizzling 8-under score, beating the entire field of the best names in amateur golf by four shots, and securing the top seed in the 16 team match play bracket.

Then they powered their way into the semifinals with a breezy 3&2 win in their morning match over Bill Hutcheson and Dan Keogh, followed by a gritty 2 and 0 victory in their afternoon match, outlasting two-time finalist John Kemp and his partner Stephen Jensen of Woburn Golf Club in England.

"I know it sounds cliché, but we are just trying to keep both balls in the fairway and both balls on the green," explained Buckley. "If we do that, we can get aggressive, and that's when we can make some birdies."

And that's the 12th Commandment - "Thou shalt not be aggressive at Winged Foot," but that doesn't matter when the hole won't stop getting in the way of the golf ball. Take Buckley's birdie putt on the iconic par-3 10th hole of the West Course in the afternoon quarter-final match. It was 45 feet if it was an inch. Moreover, it broke three feet left to right uphill, then flattened out, then it went downhill and broke hard left at the end.

"Merry Christmas," quipped Christiana after it went in.

That gave the Maxes a 1-up lead, but Kemp and Jensen birdied 11 to draw even again.

"The key for us was when Max made two sliding 12 footers on 12 and 13 to keep us even," said Buckley. Both puts were quintessential Winged Foot. "Local knowledge putts" as they say in the Winged Foot vernacular: They look like they turn one way, but of course they break the other. The first secured a birdie to match Kemp's, the other salvaged a par and another critical halve.

Then they got another Christmas gift on 16, halving the hole with a bogey when Kemp pushed a two foot putt wide of the hole.

"You knew right there that the British team was in trouble. You can't give the Maxes that kind of break, they'll make you pay," said spectator Chris Butler.

Right on cue, the Maxes cashed in the opportunity, and in spectacular fashion at that. After just missing the slithery, sloping 17th fairway by inches, Buckley hit a 158 yard 48-degree pitching wedge to 30 feet.

As an aside, that should be the 13th Commandment - "Thou shalt not hit your pitching wedge 160 yards."

"Well, it was a flyer lie…" Buckley observed, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, as though that might explain it…

Then he sank the putt - another one of those "You had no business making that" putts. This one broke left to right early, then snapped back hard left at the end, trundling downhill all the way. Of course it tumbled into the cup, giving Buckley and Christiana the lead and touching off a celebration by the Southern Methodist University and Boston College friends of the Maxes that came to cheer them on. A routine par at 18 was enough to close out the 2&0 win. They will face Tim Kane and Sughrue of Bethesda Country Club in one semifinal match.

Their win brought an end to yet another gallant run in the Anderson by Kemp, the affable Brit who wins friends and fans every time he tees it up. Talk about dedication - here's a guy who in one year climbed from number 3344 in the world to number 425 in one year!

"Big thank you to my wife Mandy for letting me play more golf," he stated with a sheepish grin.

Kemp is also the reigning British Mid-Amateur stroke play champion and in a practice round at Shinnecock Hills this week shot a blistering 66 from the tips…

…which makes the miss of that shorty on 16 that much more inexplicable. Nevertheless, Kemp put it aside and toasted his opponents cheerfully.

"Go win it all!" he told the Maxes, smiling earnestly and shaking their hands warmly. "I only want to lose to guys who win the whole thing."

The other semifinal is an all-International affair: France vs. Peru, Pascal Grizot and Bertrand Noel of Le Golf Club National against Fernando Barco and Patricio Alzamora of Lima Golf Club. It's also a match-up of young lions against wily veterans.

The youth contingent, Barco and Alzamora, nipped Roger Newsom and Adam Horton in their morning match 1-up with some electrifying fireworks at the 18th. Embedded in the right fairway bunker, Alzamora, (who will trade his golf clubs for a scalpel as he starts his life as a heart surgeon in Houston in a few months), had no play but a chip back to the fairway. But with the pin cut just five paces from the fiendishly difficult false front, he lofted a 7-iron 170 yards to one foot to steal the win.

"That was so clutch," his brother Marcello said. Was it ever.

Then they defeated well-decorated amateur champions Kevin Marsh and Giles Kebbe of The Floridian 2&1 in the afternoon, an almost Herculean feat for a couple young players when faced with veterans as seasoned as Marsh and Kebbe.

"We won three of the first four holes, but then lost six, eight, nine, and 10 to go 1-down," Alzamora said. Kebbe and Marsh birdied six and eight, while the Peruvians 3-putted nine and 10.

Other young players might fold under the pressure of a world-class amateur tournament when facing a team as steely-nerved and iron-willed as Marsh and Kebbe, but not the duo from Lima. Alzamora split the next fairway with a 3-wood, then laser-beamed a 190 yard 7-iron to one foot for a tying birdie. A pair of pars at 13 and 17 won them the match after Marsh and Kebbe carded bogeys.

"The key was a great up and down by Fernando on 14," Alzamora added.

"Great?" Try ""hair-raising!" Barca missed the fairway so badly, he was coming back to the golf course via Larchmont. He could only punch out and left himself 40 yards to the short side of one of the curviest greens on the course. But after a great lob, he drained a sidehill 10-footer to preserve their 1-up lead.

"Everyone comes up to us and thanks us for coming, but it's us who want to thank them for letting us come," Alzamora added gratefully. "It means so much play where Billy Casper won after laying up four days, where Bobby Jones won, and where so much other history happened."

Their opponents are Grizot and Noel, the former a member of Winged Foot. You'd think that would be an advantage, but the tandem have an Achilles Heel which has, as yet, not proved fatal.

"We have trouble with the first three holes. We keep losing them in match play, and we played them 2-over in stroke play," explained Grizot. Sure enough, they had a rough start both times today, losing the first hole in the morning, but rallying to beat Jeff Ingram and Michael Sullivan of Champions Golf Club in Texas.

"Then I missed a short one at the first that would have finally won us that hole, we lost two when we both missed the green, and managed to halve the third with bogeys," Grizot stated, shaking his head.

They righted the ship soon though, winning holes seven, eight, nine and 11. At seven Grizot hit a 190-yard 7-iron to two feet for a birdie, followed by a great greenside up-and-down that won the eighth hole with a par.

Then Noel got into the act, firing a 165-yard 9-iron to two feet at the ninth, and when Grizot drained a 12-foot birdie putt at 11 they were suddenly 3-up.

They would have closed out the win at 16 except that Ingram holed out a bunker shot to keep the Texans' slim hopes alive, but when Noel launched a 220 yard 6-iron from the right rough to five feet, the match was over 2&1.

"That was the defining moment," Grizot said of the shot that cinched the match in the clutch.

And so another glorious day ended at Winged Foot, the brilliant sunshine eclipsed only by the buoyant hearts and open-hearted good cheer of the members as they welcomed the greatest amateurs in the game to their majestic, indeed iconic club. Tomorrow is championship Sunday, and one team will become a part of the storied history of the Yankee Stadium of golf, while others may be consigned to the Graveyard of Champions. No other course in the world has such a devastating synergy of history and misery as Winged Foot, the two laying cheek and jowl with one another, two sides of the same coin, the line between the two gossamer thin.

"You either play really well and give yourself a chance, or you play poorly and you're done," stated Grizot with a shrug. Perhaps only a Winged Foot member can be so matter-of-fact about facing pressure that would freeze other golfers' hearts. They walk in history with every step each time they tee it up, so after being tempered in the crucible of Winged Foot under tournament conditions they may be more likely to avoid the critical mistakes that visitors so often make.

"One lapse in judgment can lead to a big number," observed Christiana. "We're just going to go out and play the golf course, not the men."

Come Monday everyone will return to their jobs, but for one more day these ardent golfers are kings, the eyes of the golf world on them and their quest to become immortal at mighty, majestic Winged Foot, to have their names inscribed on the wooden plaques that grace the club's grill room.

"It doesn't get any better than this," added Parker Smith, a three-time former champion. "To see your name up there on the wall beside the pictures of Bobby Jones, Davis Love, Billy Casper, and all the rest…that's special."

Follow all the scoring at www.andersonmemorial.org.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.