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By Richard Dean
The former TCU golfer had his share of near misses in an attempt each year to being called the Houston area’s top amateur golfer. But for the weekend of Oct. 2-4, 2020, Leiss was the best player around. Leiss’ 1-over-par 211 was 2 shots better than runner-up Houston Martin (League City) in winning the 2020 Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Golf Championship.
“This is just a blessing. I’m so grateful and thankful,” said Leiss, who has been head golf coach at Houston Christian High School the past 11 years and has accrued a long list of accomplishments as an amateur golfer and club champion. “It’s wonderful at 62 years old, and playing once a week, to come out and put it together.
“Every once in a while I play well enough to compete well. I just focused on speed (of the greens), not making any double bogeys and try to keep (the ball) below the hole.”
Leiss, who plays out of Royal Oaks Country Club after previously being a longtime member of Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, put together rounds of 70-69-72. In Saturday’s second-round 1-under-69, Leiss hit all 18 greens in regulation.
William Shock (Pasadena) and 2016 champion John Dowdall (Fulshear) shared third at 5-over 215 in the 54-hole tournament conducted by the Houston Golf Association.
In the city amateur, Leiss’ best finish is second in 2003. Counting this year, Leiss has placed in the top five of the senior city am four times over his six years playing this event.
Leiss credits much of his golf success to his longtime friend Jack Sturdivant, an accomplished amateur who finished fifth this weekend in the super senior division at age 71.
“He’s the guy I really owe this to,” said Leiss, who has won the club championship at Whispering Pines twice and has won club championships at Royals Oaks Country Club and Riverbend Country Club.
Making the win special is that it occurred at Gus Wortham Golf Course, which is managed and maintained by the Houston Municipal Golf Association, an operation of the Houston Golf Association, on land that once was the original Houston Country Club.
“This has unbelievable history and I’m so glad they kept it,” Leiss said.
The place where the golf cart originated, Houston Country Club was the site of the famous Ben Hogan-Sam Snead match played in 1964 and aired on TV in 1965 on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It was the final head-to-head match between the legends. Years earlier Bobby Jones played in a prestigious amateur tournament on this site.
“This is an unbelievable piece of property,” Leiss said. “It means a lot to win this tournament at Gus Wortham.”
This is the second straight year that Houston’s premier amateur tournament has been played at Gus Wortham, located just minutes southeast of downtown Houston, after moving from Memorial Park Golf Course.
“We were a little disappointed that we were moving from Memorial to here,” Leiss said. “Some of us because that’s such a great tract. We had no idea how great this was. And there’s not anybody who’s disappointed anymore because these greens are some of the hardest I’ve ever played, and I’ve played from Winged Foot to Augusta National to Pebble Beach. I’ve played all those courses and these greens are amazing.”
Gus Wortham has won the approval of the amateur players and is one of the top daily public golf courses in the Houston area for recreational golfers as well.
What makes the greens a true test is the numerous undulations, difficulty in reading, and the pace. Leiss had to be focused at all times when sizing up a putt during the senior city amateur.
“I never once stopped thinking about speed on the holes in the three days I played here,” said Leiss, an independent insurance agent. “If you ever take your mind off the speed once, you’re in trouble. You have to get the speed right out here or you’re going to three putt. You can’t be too aggressive.”
Competing at TCU from 1977-80, Leiss faced top competition and his game was tested by some of the best college players at that time. That included Fred Couples (Houston), John Cook (Ohio State), Hal Sutton (Centenary), Bob Tway (Oklahoma State), Payne Stewart (SMU) and David Ogrin (Texas A&M).
Leiss’ first year playing in the Houston city amateur was 1991 when he placed fourth.
A highlight of Leiss’ was at age 49 he played Augusta National, site of the annual Master’s, from the back tees and shot even par. He’s also qualified for the U.S. Senior Amateur and has played in the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
In 1978 Leiss teamed with Sturdivant to win the Golfcrest Four-Ball championship after just meeting each other 10 days earlier.
“He and I, 10 years later hooked up and we’ve been playing once a week every week for close to 30 years,” Leiss said. “Jack has helped me a lot. I call him my mentor and teacher.”
Who says golf lessons don’t pay off?
Lynn Cormier is proof positive that with the right instruction, a person can elevate their golf game. At any age.
Cormier, who did not even pick up the sport until age 40, started his sessions in 2007 at GolfTEC from director of instruction Doug Strawbridge, going from a 16 handicap to scratch in just three years.
The lessons are still paying dividends for Cormier, now at age 68. On Saturday, Cormier won the super senior division of the 2020 Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Golf Championship at Gus Wortham Golf Course.
“I wish I would have started (playing) younger,” Cormier said. “When it’s on it’s on, and when it’s off, it’s golf.”
Cormier’s game is usually on, and he’s made up for lost time. Capturing the Houston city senior amateur in his division for the first time is the latest of a long list of accomplishments on the links for the Missouri City resident who plays out of Sweetwater Country Club, where he is a seven-time senior club champion and where he won the club championship in 2014.
At the 2014 World Handicap Challenge in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Cormier tied for low gross from among more than 3,000 competitors. In addition, he was named senior club player of the year at the Houston Amateur Golf Channel Tour in Houston. All in all, Cormier has won tournaments at the local, state and national level.
In the 2019 super senior division at Gus Wortham, Cormier shared third place. This year, his 4-over-par 146 was three less shots than Gary Noto (League City) and Kent Samuel (The Woodlands), who shared second place at 7 over. Last year’s winner Chuck Reeve (Houston) finished fourth at 8 over.
Cormier, whose career low round is 65 at Sweetwater, shot even par over the final 18 holes over Gus Wortham to secure the victory and first-place trophy of the tournament that is conducted by the Houston Golf Association. He came into the final round in third place at 4 over, just a shot behind first-round co-leaders Matthew Martin (Houston) and Jamey Freisleben (Montgomery).
For Saturday’s final round, the weather was ideal for golf on a sunny day with high temperature in the low 80s.
“The weather was perfect, the course is in great shape, it’s a fun course,” said Cormier, who is a regional product manager for United Rental Trench Safety.
For the super seniors, Gus Wortham played to around 6,000 yards.
“It wasn’t a long course, you have to hit fairways and keep it in play, and the greens are the tough part of that course because if you miss the green, it’s pretty hard because the greens are so fast,” Cormier said. “If you missed it, you had a hard time getting up and down for par.”
Cormier’s strength is his driving and short game.
“I have a really good short game, chipping up and down,” Cormier said. “This weekend I kept (the ball) in the short grass and I putted real well. I handled the speed of the greens really well which is critical.”
Everyone has a different story on how they got involved in golf. For Cormier it was when he married his second wife Lu, an avid golfer.
“I told her you can get rid of those clubs because you will never catch me playing golf,” Cormier said. “We went to a friend’s house one day and he lives on a golf course and we went and hit balls on the range and I was like, ‘Wow, this could be fun.’ You hit that one good shot and you get hooked. That was it.”
Cormier credits GolfTEC and Strawbridge for his development as a competitive golfer. They pretty much started Cormier with the basics, changing his grip as well as his full-swing mechanics.
“I had no consistency on my swing before,” Cormier said. “When I hit the ball I didn’t know where it was going. Now I have a direction and an aiming point to start at.
“It worked out well because you could see it on the monitors and you could see your ball flight, see your swing in slow motion. That’s what helped me a lot, I could see what I was doing wrong instead of somebody telling you what you are doing wrong. I work really hard on my game. You just have to work at it.”
After 36-holes David Leiss leads the Greater Houston Senior City Amateur. After three birdies in a row on the back nine, Leiss finished with a one-under, 69 for the round and even par for the tournament. Lurking right behind is 2016 champion John Dowdall, sitting at one over par after two days. Scott Smith and David Bonham are tied for third at three-over for the event. The championship at Gus Wortham Park Golf Course concludes tomorrow.
The first round of the Greater Houston Senior and Super Senior Men’s Amateur at Gus Wortham Park Golf Course is complete. Houston Martin, of League City, is at the top of the senior division leaderboard. With three birdies, Martin finished at one-under, 69. Close behind, David Bonham sits in second place with an even par, 70. Ending the round with a one-over, 71, 2016 Champion John Dowdall is tied for third along with David Leiss and Tod Mitchell.
In the Super Senior division Matthew Martin and Jamey Freisleben are tied for first with a three-over, 74 after round one. Lynn Cormier, of Missouri City, sits in third place with a four-over, 75. Five players follow close behind tied for fourth. The 36-hole event for the Super Senior division will conclude tomorrow.
By Richard Dean
At age 14, Hartford began playing in junior tournaments conducted by the Houston Golf Association. The same volunteer-based group that annually runs the Greater Houston City Amateur Golf Championships.
Playing the city amateur for the first time, Hartford navigated the short, but difficult, Gus Wortham Golf Course better than anyone, winning the 2020 championship by a whopping 6 shots, shooting a 7-under 273.
From starting as a junior golfer to city champion in eight years speaks volumes about Hartford’s game.
“I played HGA junior golf and junior golf my whole life through them,” said the 22-year-old Hartford, a Conroe resident who graduated from Klein Collins High School and Texas A&M-Commerce. “And I played the junior match play which is pretty big here.
“So it’s pretty cool to come back and win the actual (city) amateur championship.”
And win the championship he did. Hartford overcame a shaky opening nine holes, which included two double bogeys, in Friday’s opening-round 1-over 71. But Hartford came out firing on Saturday, shooting a 5-under-65 and positioning himself into contention heading into Sunday’s 36 holes.
On the final day, Hartford shot a 3-under 67 in the morning and a respectable even-par 70 in the afternoon. Justin Kaplan of Houston and Kyle Maxwell of The Woodlands shared second at 1-under 279. But Kaplan, who plays out of The Club at Carlton Woods, was awarded second place based on the tiebreaker as his final-round 66 was better than Maxwell’s closing 68.
For Kaplan, it’s his fourth runner-up finish in this tournament. He finished fourth last year here.
“I’m kind of the Phil Mickelson of the city am,” said Kaplan, referencing Mickelson’s six runner-up finishes without a win in the U.S. Open. “I’m going to keep trying, I hope this second-place finish doesn’t keep going on. I’m going to give it a run again next year, but it’s always fun to play here and play well.”
Kaplan’s 66 in Sunday’s afternoon round, which included eight birdies, was low score of the round, an impressive showing with the wind picking up. Kaplan, winner of the 2017 Carlton Woods Invitational, switched putters following his morning-round 71 and that move proved beneficial.
“I hit it really well all day,” said the 32-year-old Kaplan, who began the final round 10 shots back of Hartford. “I just putted awful in the morning. And this afternoon I started making putts.
“I was so far back, I was 3 over going into the final round and I knew I had to put up as low of a score I could shoot. I think I did. I played pretty well, he just played great.”
Helping Hartford achieve success was that he made changes as well throughout the three-day tournament.
“First day, I didn’t really have it, not playing great,” said Hartford, who put together rounds of 71-65-67-70. “Second day, I came about an hour-and-a-half before my second round and putted, hit a lot of balls, and something clicked.
“Then a great round (Saturday), 65. One of my lowest rounds in a tournament. And today just kept it going, very consistent. Probably one of the better putting weeks of my life, so it was really fun.”
Normally a par-71 for recreational golfers, for the city amateur the course played as a par 70 totaling around 6,400 yards.
“The greens were in unbelievable shape,” Hartford said. “The greens got really fast this afternoon and they did a great job taking care of it. It plays pretty tough for a short course. I was surprised at how hard it actually ended up playing.”
Shaheen Momin of Sugar Land finished fourth at even-par 280. Patrick Burke of Houston was fifth at 2-over 282 followed by Nick Marlow at 3-over 283.
Not only was Hartford playing in this event for the first time, he had never played Gus Wortham until three weeks ago, a Saturday before he qualified at Hearthstone Country Club.
Hartford was beaming with delight as he held up the winner’s trophy following what he called his biggest individual accomplishment in golf. But his victory wasn’t without a few bumps.
After making birdie on the No. 1 hole in Friday’s opening round, things got a little dicey. He made double bogey on the second hole. He three-putted No. 7 hole as well and found himself at 3 over before making the turn.
“I birdied the first hole and jokingly told my dad, ‘Hey, I’ve been birding the first hole a lot lately, maybe that jinx is over.’ I proceeded to double (bogey) the next hole,” Hartford said.
“I don’t know if I thought I had a chance to win, the cut was almost in my mind at that point. Am I going to make the cut?”
Making the cut proved to be no problem based on his second-day 65. From there it was pretty much smooth sailing for Hartford, as long as he didn’t do anything foolish.
“I knew I was in control at that point,” said Hartford, who is working towards his master’s degree at Texas A&M-Commerce and works for a defense contractor. “So I, not coasted, but I was able to hit fairways and greens and try to shoot somewhere around even (par), which I did.
“I kind of knew no one was going to make a run. I tried to shoot as well as I could without trying to get too aggressive and do something dumb.”
He didn’t, and as a result Hartford has his name on a trophy that hundreds of golfers around the Houston area go after every year.
Jonathon Welch took the outright lead after carding a second consecutive three-under par 67. Blake Hartford sits in second after an impressive second round 65, which included seven birdies and two bogies, bringing him to four-under. Shaheen Momin and Russell Chabaub are lurking right behind tied for third.
The final day concludes tomorrow with round three and four and is sure to provide a great championship. See the full leaderboard.
The Greater Houston City Amateur Championship kicked-off today at Gus Wortham Park Golf Course. The championship, hosted by Houston Golf Association, draws the top amateur golfers from across the Greater Houston area.
Round one finished with a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard. Kyle Maxwell of The Woodlands, Jonathon Welch of League City and Tyler Barnes-Wolf of Houston lead the field with a three-under, 67.
The field of 144 will be cut to the low 40 scorers and ties after Saturday’s second round to set the stage for a 36-hole finale on Sunday. See the full leaderboard.
Houston Golf Association’s priority is the health and safety of our members, youth participants, staff patrons, and volunteers. We have been monitoring all available information related to the continued spread of the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19. We currently do not plan to suspend operations at Gus Wortham Park Golf Course or cancel any scheduled First Tee classes. We are taking extra precautions for sanitation at all facilities and following all U.S. health officials recommended best practices for staff and volunteers. We will continue to monitor local, state and national Departments of Health to determine local risk and plans to help prevent the spread the illness. We do encourage any patron, youth participant or volunteer that is not feeling well to heed the advice of health officials and avoid contact with others. We also recommend to everyone to follow hygiene precautions from the CDC and other health agencies. We will continue to monitor local, county and CDC information and change our activities as warranted.
First Tee of Greater Houston’s top priority is the health and safety of our participants, volunteers and employees spanning our service area of Harris and the contiguous counties. We have been monitoring all available information related to the continued spread of the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19. We currently do not plan on cancelling any scheduled classes, but did make the decision to cancel the 2020 Champions Challenge scheduled on April 4 at F.M. Law Park. We will continue to monitor local, state and national Departments of Health to determine local risk and plans to help prevent the spread the illness. We do encourage any participant, parent or volunteer that is not feeling well to heed the advice of health officials and avoid contact with others. We also recommend to everyone to follow hygiene precautions from the CDC and other health agencies. We will continue to monitor local, county and CDC information and change our Chapter’s activities as warranted.
By Richard Dean
One of the most accomplished amateurs in the history of Houston golf, Mike Booker is putting together a resume worthy of being in the hall of fame.
Actually, he’s already a hall of famer. Booker is a 2019 selection into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on Oct. 14 at Brackenridge Golf Course in San Antonio in the amateur category.
Booker added to his legacy on Sunday, winning the 2019 Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Championship for the fourth time, giving him eight city championships. Booker, who successfully defended his senior title, has won the city amateur four times.
“It’s a little crazy,” Booker said. “If somebody would have told me I would have won eight city ams, that would have surprised me. You never know what to expect, all you can do is just go out and play and not take yourself too seriously and do the best that you can do. Sometimes it works out like it did today.”
Booker seized control of the tournament during Sunday’s final round, rallying past 2016 champion John Dowdall for a 4-under-par 67 over Gus Wortham Park Golf Course to beat Dowdall by two shots. Gary Durbin, winner of this event in 2012, finished third.
Playing a twosome ahead of Dowdall, who led after each of the first and second round, Booker, 64, won this one coming down the stretch. Dowdall, who played superbly for the first 50 holes of the three-day, 54-hole tournament, bogeyed three of the final four holes.
Striking the ball more crisply on Sunday than he did during Saturday’s second round, Booker carded rounds of 71-70-67 for a 5-under-208.
“I had a different swing thought today, and that made all the difference,” said Booker, a member of the 1977 national championship golf team at the University of Houston. “I hit the ball really as good as I’m capable. I never really got in trouble, it was like night and day.”
Making the victory more enjoyable for Booker was that he was competing against friends and playing in what he feels is the best city amateur championship in the United States, conducted by the Houston Golf Association.
“It’s probably the greatest city am in the country because the HGA does such a great job of running it,” said Booker, who plays out of River Oaks Country Club. “It almost feels like a professional tournament and Houston has the best players, having played against them for 40 years. So when you beat a great field in a great city on what has turned out to be a great golf course, all I can do is smile and feel good about that.
“All these years compete against these guys literally for 40 years, part of that is that satisfaction that I’m still competing, still being competitive, and part of it is that most of my friends are still around and still playing. So that’s very fulfilling and satisfying.”
Dowdall, who played with Durbin in the final twosome, put together rounds of 67-71-72. The Fulshear resident finished 3-under 210, one shot better that Durbin, who shot 73-68-70 for 2-under 211.
“I played well for two-and-a-half days, back nine got me,” Dowdall said. “I played solid, just didn’t make the putts and didn’t finish well. A few bogeys coming in, let it slip away.
“Mike played really well, a 67. That’s a really good round out here.”
For the second straight week Dowdall let a final-round three-shot lead get away. A week ago Dowdall couldn’t close the deal in the Texas Golf Association’s Texas Senior Amateur at The Deerwood Club of Kingwood, won by Durbin.
“I got to get the Sundays down,” Dowdall said.
For Durbin, its two top-three finishes in prestigious back-to-back tournaments.
“It’s always good to finish in the top three in the city,” Durbin said. “It’s been a good two-week run. I’m playing well. Mike played great to come back and win.
“Gus is a fun course to play. It’s short, tricky, a lot of it is in the greens. They did a great job in the redo of the golf course. It’s very short but it’s very tricky and you have to be patient. It was a good week. I’m happy to finish third and there’s two great players ahead of me.”
Booker got it done by being Mike Booker, a consistent golfer who understands how to manage a golf course as well as his game. Booker’s consistent, doesn’t get in trouble often, and is a good ball striker. That’s what it takes to beat the best senior amateurs in the Houston area on a regular basis.
With Memorial Park Golf Course in the process of being renovated and unavailable for play in 2019, the HGA held the senior city amateur for the first time at Gus Wortham, receiving praise from golfers who competed in the senior amateur as well as players in last week’s city amateur.
“It surprised me that it’s in such good shape as it is. I enjoyed it,” Dowdall said of the 6,400-yard layout. “It’s a bit of a challenge, they have some tough pins, but it’s a nice course. You’re going to have to have the accuracy or you’re going to make bogey.”
Gus Wortham plays short in yardage, but it can be a good test of golf. Golfers need to get their golf balls on the correct section of a green or a tough two-putt awaits.
Booker offered his take on the municipal golf course, which originally was Houston Country Club.
“This is absolutely a classic thinking man’s golf course,” Booker said. “You really need to know where to place the ball off the tee. More importantly, you need to control where the ball is on the green, make sure you don’t miss it on one particularly side per hole, because it’s a strong enough golf course that if you put your ball in the wrong place, even on the green or close to the green, it’s going to be difficult to make par.”
It’s victories like this that has Booker getting a well-deserved spot in the Texas Golf Hall of Fame.
“I’ve known for a couple of months and I still can’t think of the right way to describe it,” Booker said. “Winning a tournament is a real ego boost and gives you that great feeling, but it fades away. But being inducted into the hall of fame has staying power. I’ve very humbled by it, it’s a terrific thing.”