Through two rounds, the 38th U.S. Senior Challenge Cup has produced an enormous amount competitive golf. With the Canyon Club in Albuquerque, New Mexico, playing host, the competition, just like the desert temperatures, is heating up.
There may not be a single golfer having more fun this week than 36-hole leader, Randy Haag.
The 64-year-old from California commands a three-shot lead heading into Thursday’s final round. How is he doing it? A combination of a solid game plan, some skill and a pinch of luck.
Even par through his opening nine holes and 1 over for the tournament, Haag turned his game up to 11 when he made the turn. After bombing his drive on the par 4 1st (his 10th hole), Haag came up short with a wedge from 115 yards out. Attributing the shortcoming to the elevation, Haag stayed positive and trusted his sand game, hoping for a chance at a par save.
Catching it perfect, Haag’s bunker shot found the bottom of the hole for birdie.
After saving a handful of clutch pars and adding a couple of birdies to his card, Haag stood on the 9th tee 2 under on the day and looking to cruise into the clubhouse.
“I teed my ball high to launch it over the trees,” Haag told Golfweek. “I hit it hard, but I hit low. It hit the first tree.”
Finding trouble, Haag was unable to find his ball after the ricochet. Just as he was about to call the search off, the group behind Haag found his ball in the fairway of No. 8, saving him from taking a penalty to re-tee.
Thanks to the 80-yard kick left, Haag had a decision to make. With risk protruding everywhere he looked, Haag, decided to trust his go-to 5-wood.
“I said ‘screw it,’” Haag chuckled.
Hitting a high draw, Haag put himself back in play for par. The ninth green at Canyon Club is elevated and features a huge false front. With the pin tucked in the back portion of the green, Haag had a blind shot and was just trying to give himself a chance to get up and down or at worst, a bogey.
What happened next can only be described as pandemonium.
“I nipped it and I saw it kind of jump over the false front and it looked like about the right speed, the right weight, the right line and all of a sudden a marshall behind me is screaming ‘It went in the hole!’”
Just as the ball landed, Haag’s playing partner and good friend Dennis Martin stripped off his shirt, emptied his pockets and began dancing.
“You literally could hit a hundred balls and none of them would go in,” he said.
With the shot resulting in a Harry Higgs/Joel Dahmen moment, Haag closed out his second round at 3 under, giving himself a three-shot advantage heading into the final round.
With over 300 tournament victories throughout his amateur career including three wins and three runner-up finishes so far in 2023, Haag looks upon his recent losses to help him close out a win Thursday.
“I know how to win, but also I know the three tournaments I came second in – I became impatient,” he told Golfweek. “I’m looking at tomorrow a little bit differently. I’m going to play each hole the way I have been, try to hit the right spots and try to not make any big mistakes.”
Giving chase on Thursday is Albuquerque’s own Rex Enright. As one of two players who led the division after the first round with an even-par 72, Enright carded a round of 73 that featured five birdies.
Mark Elliot (Kansas), Dennis Martin (California) and Anton Solome (New Mexico) lurk six back of Haag at 4 over.
With a great final round, Solome has the chance to make it a clean sweep as he is a part of Team New Mexico-Slayton who leads the team portion of the U.S. Challenge Cup.
He, alongside Kevin Sivage, Bill Squier and team captain Jerry Slayton hold a 12-shot lead over the rest of the field.
Two aces were recorded in Wednesday’s second round. Michael Healey (No. 13) and Tim Tyner (No. 3) both carded 1s in the senior division.
Super Seniors (65-69)
John Hornbeck (Wyoming) leads the Super Senior division at 6 over. Crispin Fuentes (New Mexico, 9 over) and Ronald Kilby (Texas, 10 over) round out the final pairing.
New Mexico’s Jack Slayton holds a three-shot lead (4 under) after back-to-back 70s. Arkansas’s Bev Hargraves looks to track him down after rounds of 73 and 70.
Super Legends (75+)
David Rasley of Arizona boasts a six-shot lead in the 75 and up age bracket.