If at first

Published 10:39 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

Suffolk’s J. P. Leigh and Bob Morris of Northern Virginia each shot 3-under par 69 on Monday to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship in sectional qualifying at The Dominion Club (6,622 yards, par 72) in Glen Allen.

The berth into the USGA’s national championship for amateurs 55 years and older was the first for Leigh, 61, and the first into any USGA national event for Leigh. The feat is even sweeter given how close he had been in this same event in four of the last five summers.

“Yes, this was the sixth time I’ve tried to qualify, and I’ve been an alternate four times,” said Leigh.

Leigh and Morris were the only two qualifiers out of Monday’s field. There are 51 sectional qualifying tournaments around the country Aug. 10-20, with most venues awarding two berths.

The third- and fourth-place finishers on Monday in Glen Allen, John Cuomo and Terry Towler, who each carded 72, are alternates. In three of the four years Leigh was an alternate, he missed out on an automatic qualification berth and was relegated to an alternate in tiebreaking playoffs.

Leigh, a four-time state champion in the Virginia State Golf Association Senior Stroke Play Championship, knew he was playing well, but didn’t know what position he was in until the final hole.

“Usually, you never know until you get through, and I didn’t know anything until on the 18th tee. I heard there was one other 69 and no others under par,” said Leigh.

“Usually, under par makes it, but you never know.

“The whole field, they are all great players trying to get in with only two spots. It’s amazing, because it’s so hard,” said Leigh.

Leigh was two-under at the turn, birdied No. 11 and made pars the rest of the way.

“It was one of those days where it’s really, brutally hot,” said Leigh, “but if you’re playing well, it doesn’t feel quite as hot. I was able to focus. I was playing solid and steady.”

In his previous close calls, Leigh had three rounds at 73 and one at 72. Now, Leigh’s made it to the final field of 156 players. The USGA Senior Amateur Championship will be held Sept. 12-17 at Beverly Country Club in Chicago.

The USGA Senior Amateur Championship starts with two days of stroke play to cut the field down for match play for the last four days.