Sargent comes up short in VSGA Senior Am final

By Chris Lang, Virginia State Golf Association

Bowen Sargent gave it all he had in the VSGA Senior Amateur championship match Saturday (Photo: Chris Lang/VSGA).

VIENNA — It’s about a one-minute drive via electric cart between the 17th green and the clubhouse at Westwood Country Club. That was plenty of time for Buck Brittain, fresh off a thrilling triumph in the 73rd Virginia State Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship, to Facetime his wife Carrie and daughter Bo back in Tazewell.

Earlier, he told Bo he was going to try to bring a trophy home to her. After defeating Bowen Sargent 2 and 1 in a terrific, back-and-forth final match Saturday, he lived up to his word.

Brittain’s win put him in some elite company when it comes to VSGA championships. He joined Keith Decker and David Partridge as players who have won titles in the VSGA Mid-Amateur, VSGA Senior Amateur and the Senior Open of Virginia (he also has an appearance in a VSGA Amateur final to his credit). All of his wins have come since he turned 50.

He had to survive a tightening lower back and a furious rally from Sargent—the University of Virginia men’s golf coach—to secure that fourth VSGA title Saturday. Brittain started off hot, making birdies on two of the first four holes to build a 3-up lead. The lead jumped to 4 up when Brittain made a two-putt par on the par-3 6th after Sargent had dunked his tee shot in the pond in front of the green.

But Sargent, who had a number of close misses on putts in the early going, finally saw one fall on the par-5 8th, a birdie that cut the lead to 3 up and jumpstarted his rally. He won the next two holes to cut the lead to 1 up, and he tied the match by sinking a 25-foot birdie putt from just inside the fringe on 12.

“I settled in,” Sargent said. “I didn’t hit my driver great like I had all week, but I fought back, and I was proud of that.”

No. 13, a dogleg left par 4, was a turning point. Riding serious momentum, Sargent yanked his tee shot left into the trees. His second shot didn’t advance far—it hit another tree and came straight back down into the rough. His third shot was a thing of beauty, though, a curling low shot that settled four feet from the pin.

Brittain, who had hit the fairway, hit the green on his approach but was 50 feet short of the hole. What looked like a sure win for Brittain seemed destined to be a tie. Brittain lagged his birdie attempt about five feet past the hole, leaving Sargent an opportunity for an improbable par. But the putt slipped to the left, and Brittain tapped in for par to win the hole and go 1 up.

“I thought if I could have made that, it would have been a huge reversal for the whole match,” Sargent said. “I hit a good putt, but it came up a hair low.”

Sargent quickly recovered to win the next hole when Brittain three-putted, giving him the box on No. 15.

That was a fortunate break for Brittain, who watched Sargent’s tee shot on the short par 3 land a good 30 feet past the hole.

“It really helped, Bowen going first on 15,” Brittain said. “I thought he had hit a pretty good shot, and it helped me realize how much wind there was. I toned it back just a little bit. It never left the pin. When I looked up, it was right on line. I was just hoping I had the distance.”

Brittain’s tee shot settled five feet below the hole, and he sank the birdie putt to take the lead for good.

Again on 16, Sargent was first to hit approach shot from the fairway, and he hit an excellent one that settled 10 feet left, hole high. Brittain then wedged his approach to five feet below the hole, and after Sargent’s birdie putt missed, Brittain sank his to go 2 up with two to play. Brittain won the match by nailing a nervy 7-foot par comebacker on 17 to tie the hole after Sargent had lagged his birdie attempt from off the green to within a foot.

“I’m sitting here thinking I don’t have to do anything but two-putt it,” Brittain said. “Sometimes, trying to two-putt is harder. You try to keep it out of your head, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Don’t give him the hole with a three-putt.’”

Sargent joked on Friday that most of his players at UVA probably didn’t know he was even playing in this event. But a social media post promoting the championship match lit up with comments from Wahoos present and past, wishing the man they call “Big Cheese” luck on Saturday. Big picture, Sargent called this week a win, considering he hadn’t competed in a tournament for nearly a year.

“Getting to the finals, obviously, that’s big accomplishment for me. I haven’t been on this stage for a while,” Sargent said. “I’ll remember that, for sure.”

For Brittain, the victory culminated a long two-week stretch in northern Virginia. After missing out on match play at last week’s VSGA Amateur at River Bend, he navigated a difficult field to add another trophy to his case—one daughter Bo is sure to admire.

“It’s much more grueling to get through the Am than the Senior Open because it’s so many days,” Brittain said. “A couple of hours from now when I’m driving home, it’ll probably hit me how tired I am. But I’m pretty psyched at the moment. It’s way up there for me.”

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