These geezers still can golf

College apparel sometimes seems like standard issue at the U.S. Amateur, where 239 of the 312 players at the prestigious tournament are 23 or younger.

But while the Olympic Club sank its teeth into some of the collegiate stars Tuesday afternoon, 54-year-old George Zahringer was sitting comfortably in the clubhouse sipping an iced tea and checking work e-mail on his BlackBerry. After carding back-to-back 71s, the investment banker from New York City had to let his clients know he will be out of the office for at least one more day.

Zahringer and the rest of the 64 qualifiers will begin match play today, all with the hope of advancing to Sunday’s nationally televised final.

“It’s not intimidating, but it’s a challenge for sure,” Zahringer said of competing against a younger field. “In these championships, you just have to hope your game is on and you’re making some putts and the rest is kind of out of your control.”

The biggest obstacle facing veteran golfers may not be age or even a loss of distance on drives, but actual free time to spend on the course. College players not only have coaches working with them constantly, they can afford to dedicate countless hours every day to improving their games. Meanwhile, Zahringer, a father of five, tries to sneak off a few mornings a week to Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., to hit balls for a short time before heading in to work.

Zahringer is not the only veteran playing well at the Olympic Club. Gary Wolstenholme celebrated his 47th birthday Tuesday by firing a 4-over par 74 on the difficult Lake Course, leaving him at 6-over for the tournament. He will likely be in a playoff this morning — with 54 players finishing today, the projected cut is 7-over — for a spot in match play and said he takes pride in being able to hang in with golf’s next generation.

“I do, because these kids are really good and hit the ball so far,” Wolstenholme said. “And I don’t think they’ve worked out in their mind that the game is much more difficult than they think it is right now.”

Wolstenholme and Zahringer have experienced a great deal of success throughout their long amateur careers, including berths in the Walker Cup, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup. Wolstenholme is a two-time British Amateur champion who once beat Tiger Woods in match play, while Zahringer won the 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur championship, has qualified for the U.S. Amateur 16 times and has been named the Metropolitan Golf Association Player of the Year a record nine times. And while Zahringer is as tough as ever on the course — son George IV, 23, has yet to defeat his dad — he knows he isn’t invincible. He turns 55 on April 23 and is eagerly awaiting the occasion.

“That’s the age when you can officially qualify for the Senior Amateur,” Zahringer said with a laugh.”And I’m definitely looking forward to moving up to the front tees.”

Kokrak sitting on top entering match play

Jason Kokrak is in position to be the top seed when the U.S. Amateur begins match play today at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course.

The Warren, Ohio, native carded a 2-under par 68 Tuesday on the Ocean Course to complete the two-day stroke-play competition at 3-under par 137. Alex Prugh of Spokane, Wash., and David Merkow of Hartland, Wis., finished a 2-under. Derek Fathauer of Jensen Beach, Fla., was at 2-under par when his round was postponed due to darkness. He and the 53 other players unable to complete their rounds Tuesday will resume stroke play this morning at 7:30. The backlog was caused when fog delayed the start of play Monday by four hours.

The top 64 players advance into the match-play bracket, with the cut currently projected at 7-over par. If the field exceeds 64, players at the cut line will compete in a sudden-death playoff until the number is whittled down. Match play is expected to commence today at 10 a.m. and will continue through Sunday’s 36-hole final.

Today’s TV: 1-3 p.m., Golf Channel

melliser@examiner.com


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