Golf

Lakewood Ranch’s Gregg Van Lue last county golfer remaining in Florida Senior Amateur Match Play Championship

Gregg Van Lue is making his debut at the Florida State Golf Association’s Senior Amateur Match Play Championship this week.

But the Lakewood Ranch resident isn’t new to the match play format.

Van Lue is a two-time Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club match play champion, and booked himself into the quarterfinals of the super-senior division at The Founders Golf Club in Sarasota on Tuesday after defeating Fort Myers’ Gary Saft, 4-and-2.

“The secret is to get ahead early, and make them press,” Van Lue said.

Van Lue accomplished that by getting out to a 3-up lead on the front nine. From there, he continued to keep pace with Saft, before getting dormie on the 16th hole and closing the match out there.

“It’s hard to come back from dormie,” Van Lue said. “If you’re dormie outside two with two to go, you’re in trouble. Because all they have to do is tie you.”

The 69-year-old grew up in Kokomo, Ind., and played collegiately at Indiana University. In his junior year at Indiana, Van Lue was drafted during the Vietnam War. That led Van Lue to Guam, where he was in charge of the golf program there. Following the war, Van Lue relocated to the Atlanta area in the mid-1970s to become a club pro and try his hand at making it in professional golf.

The professional golf grind didn’t pan out, so he applied to regain his amateur status in 1978, and it was granted in the early 1980s. Eventually, he made his way back to his native Indiana before moving to Lakewood Ranch five years ago.

Now he’ll face Valrico’s David Bird, a 4-and-3 winner over Boynton Beach’s Harry Cain, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Both the super-senior (for golfers ages 65-and-older) and senior divisions are slated to contest the quarterfinals and semifinals on Wednesday. The quarters are in the morning, while the semis are in the afternoon at the East Sarasota County golf course.

Meanwhile, three of the past four winners of the senior division of the tournament were eliminated on Tuesday. Inclement weather suspended Round of 32 matches on Monday, so those matches were completed Tuesday as well as the Round of 16 matches.

Bonita Springs’ Owen Joyner knocked off the senior division’s top seed, Vero Beach’s Matthew Avril, to get into Wednesday’s quarterfinal. His path to that 2-up victory, though, was fortunate as he was 2-down in his Round of 32 match with Fort Myers’ Rokki Rogan before Monday’s suspension. Rogan couldn’t make it back to the course Tuesday due to work, so Joyner was given a second chance in the tournament.

Joyner’s match with Avril was a back-and-forth one that saw Joyner have a 1-up lead going into the par-5 18th hole. Avril knocked his second shot in the water, which gave Joyner the opening to close out the match.

“I just had to stay out of trouble,” Joyner said.

Sarasota’s Jerry Rose, a six-time club champion at The Founders Club, reached the championship match in the seniors division two years ago. Rose is retired, though, and usually spends his summers back in Minnesota. That meant he didn’t play it in 2015. But since this year’s tournament was at his home course, he opted to stay. That meant knocking off Bradenton’s Paul Kirby, 7-and-6, in Tuesday’s completed Round of 32 match and drawing a stout opponent in Sarasota’s John Vaccaro in the next round.

The key moment came when Rose birdied the 545-yard par-5 14th to take a 1-up lead. A slick up-and-down on the 16th hole kept his momentum, before ending the match on the 17th hole.

“I didn’t have to really hit a huge flop shot,” Rose said. “I just squared the 60-degree up and popped it in there. It took one bounce and grabbed it 2 1/2 feet from the hole.”

Fort Lauderdale’s Rick Woulfe (2012), Tampa’s Doug LaCrosse (2013) and Sarasota’s K.C. Fox (2015) comprised three of the four past champions that were eliminated Tuesday. Only Juno Beach’s Pete Williams advanced to Wednesday’s quarterfinals with two victories on Tuesday.

Williams will meet Apopka’s Doug Snoap, who needed 25 holes to outlast Largo’s Dennis Monahan in the Round of 32. In the super-senior division, Bradenton’s Jim Stone fell 2-and-1 to two-time defending champion Larry Vander Bie, of Brooksville.

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