SUFFOLK, Va. ––Yorktown’s James Gallagher, 55, of Yorktown and Scott Shingler, 42, of Haymarket each shot 5-under-par 67 to share medalist honors in 18-hole sectional qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship conducted today at Cedar Point Country Club.
The national championship, open to competitors ages 25 and over by Sept. 6 with a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 3.4., will be conducted from Sept. 6-11 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
Gallagher relied on his trademark precision in securing one of the qualifying spots. He played bogey-free with five birdies and hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. His longest birdie make of the day was an 11-footer at No. 1. He turned in two under and collected three birdies in a six-hole stretch, starting at No. 12 and later at the two par 5s on the second nine, Nos. 14 and 17.
Playing stellar golf is only part of Gallagher’s story that includes what appeared to be an unlikely return to the game. He spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a colonel in April 2008. During that stint, he served the U.S.in both Gulf wars and on some of the most dangerous stages around the world; Afghanistan, Bosnia, Grenada and Iraq are counted among his tours of duty.
Gallagher had serious back surgery in 2002 and had to learn to walk again during his rehabilitation and, at the time, doctors believed he may never play golf again. Gallagher even had to sign a contract in 2002 promising doctors that he wouldn’t play golf or participate in any sports that involved running and jumping. But Gallagher defied the odds. He rejoined his unit in late-January 2003—in Iraq, patrolling Baghdad every day until July 2003. After returning stateside, he did what some thought would never be possible: With permission from his Florida surgeon, Col. Gallagher started chipping again that fall.
Gallagher returned to Langley Air Force Base in 2005, and again immersed himself in golf. Gallagher qualified for the Mid-Amateur for a third straight year, but has yet to make match play. These days, one can’t blame Gallagher for his aspiring attitude as he prepares to take on a demanding layout, once nicknamed ‘sock ’em valley’ by one headline writer.
“The last two years were a really rich experience. To be able to go back to play it again, especially at one of the nation’s treasures for a golf course is going to be really thrilling,” said Gallagher, a member at the Tidewater Amateur Golf Tour, a VSGA Recreational Golfers’ Club. “I’ll be looking to not to just make (match play) but to get through a couple of rounds of match play. Saucon Valley suits my game a little bit. It’s not as long as the courses we’ve had before and it’s tight. That’s good for me. My stock and trade is hitting fairways and greens.”
Gallagher advanced to match play at last year’s USGA Senior Amateur Championship and counts it as a valuable learning experience.
“I realized that I went to the first couple of Mid-Ams thinking about making (match play). It was a bad goal,” Gallagher said. “There’s so much more golf to be played after making match play. To get through the first couple rounds of match play is a more achievable goal and is a goal that keeps you focused on the future.”
Shingler (pictured left) used a late charge, birdieing four of the final five holes, to secure the other spot. He got up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-5 14th and rolled in a 6-footer for birdie. His remaining birdies at Nos. 15, 17 and 18 came inside 5 feet. He didn’t make a bogey and converted on some important par putts that kept his round going.
“That was a good run right when I needed it. I made a couple of putts and key par saves to keep the round together,” Shingler said. “It was a pretty good ball striking round. I made a couple of really nice up and downs to save the round, which is what you have to do to get through the qualifiers—make some putts and key par saves and I was able to do that.”
Shingler qualified for last year’s Mid-Amateur and made match play. In reaching the national championship this time around, he entered the qualifier playing well. After getting off to a tough start at last week’s Delta Dental State Open of Virginia, he played the last 45 holes in seven under par to share low amateur honors.
The Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
SUFFOLK, Va. –– Results from 18-hole U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship sectional qualifying at Cedar Point Country Club (7,010 yards, par 36-36—72) on Thursday, July 24.
a – denotes alternate
Col. James Gallagher (Yorktown, Va.), 34-33—67
Scott Shingler (Haymarket, Va.), 35-32—67
a – Dave Pulk (Williamsburg, Va.), 33-37—70
a – Steve Serrao (Midlothian, Va.), 36-34—70