A comment made in jest turned out to be prophetic for Marietta’s Jeff Belk.
Belk, who owns an insurance business, was playing in a qualifier for the Georgia Amateur when rain halted play. Belk was paired with Robert Mize, whose caddie that day was his father, 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize. During the delay, someone asked Mize if he was going to carry his son’s bags at the Georgia Am, but he said regretfully he couldn’t because the tournament is the same week as the U.S. Senior Open and that he would be in Omaha.
Belk laughed and said, “Hey, I’m going to be there, too.”
That turned out to be no joke. Belk picked up one of four qualifying spots in the qualifier at the Standard Club and has earned a spot in the U.S. Senior Open. Belk and Georgia PGA professional Craig Stevens both shot 68 and earned a place in the tournament. Longtime PGA player Mike Hulbert and amateur Jack Hall of Sea Island earned the other two spots.
Belk was 3-under at the Senior Open qualifier when a storm came through and stopped play. Upon returning, he nailed an approach shot to within three feet of the cup and made birdie. Then he changed strategy to protect his position.
“We played late and I knew Craig was in at 68,” Belk said. “So the last five or six holes I was just trying to hit in the fairway and hit it on the green.”
Belk, 54, has been one of the state’s steadiest amateurs for years and won the 2012 Georgia Match Play Championship. He’s qualified for 17 straight Georgia Amateurs and has never missed the cut. This will be his first appearance in the U.S. Senior Open.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Belk said. “I haven’t played as much the last couple of years because I’ve been trying to get this business started. So it’s nice to be able to get another opportunity to do something.”
Griffin wins Atlanta Open: Cory Griffin, an amateur who plays out of Canongate at Georgia National in McDonough, beat Stephen Keppler, the director of golf at Marietta Country Club, in a playoff to win the 96th Atlanta Open at the Polo Golf and Country Club. The two players tied at 4-under in the weather-plagued event that was shortened to 18 holes. Tied for third at 3-under 69 were Hank Smith from Frederica Golf Club and amateurs Nathan Mallonee of Jennings Mill and Damon Stephenson of Wolf Creek.
The Dogwood: The final eight spots for the Dogwood Invitational will be determined in a qualifier on Monday. Otherwise a solid field has been assembled for the 72-hole event that starts Wednesday. The top-ranked player in the field is No. 5 Peter Williamson of Jupiter, Fla. Local competitors include Oliver Schniederjans, Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves of Georgia Tech, Jimmy Beck of Kennesaw State, Sepp Straka of Georgia and Anthony Maccaglia of Oglethorpe. Cory Whitsett of NCAA champion Alabama will join another potential Walker Cup member, LSU’s Curtis Thompson, in the field.
Etc.: Georgia Tech senior Seth Reeves scored his second win at the Southeastern Amateur in three years, taking a three-shot victory at the Country Club of Columbus. Reeves shot 67 in the final round to re-capture the trophy he won in 2011. … Sean Murphy of Decatur and Katy Harris of St. Simons Island won the Georgia Junior PGA Championships at the Golf Club at Cuscowilla in Eatonton. Each advances to the 38th Junior PGA Championship on July 30-Aug. 2 at Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Va. …
Keppler and Michael Berning, an assistant professional at Marietta Country Club, won the Georgia PGA Pro-Assistant Championship at Marietta CC. … Mark Sweeney and Tim Brewer won the Summit Chase Invitational with rounds of 66-65, beating Larry Harris and Richie Taylor by two shots. … A team from Flat Creek won the Georgia PGA Pro-Junior Championship. Professional Brandon Lovelady and juniors Andrew Hitchcock, Conner Coffee and David Bartels won a playoff at the Legends at Chateau Elan.