October 17, 2013
by Spencer Sorensen
It was déjà vu all over again in 2013 as NCGA Player and Senior Player of Year awards went to the same players they did in 2012. Not only did Arbuckle’s Ben Geyer and Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale repeat for their respective titles, they did so in similar fashions to their previous campaigns.
Geyer, much like he did the year before, didn’t have much of an imprint on the points list when summer rolled around, but then two tournaments reversed his fortune. The recent St. Mary’s College graduate won the NCGA Stroke Play Championship and NCGA Match Play Championship, becoming the first player to win both events in the same year in 51 years, which vaulted him to the top of the points list in a late summer surge.
“I think winning the two majors helped a lot [to defend my title],” said Geyer, who won his second player of the year in participating in half as many events as 2012 (5 compared to 10).
“Last year I played just as well [as this year], but winning those two events gives you so many points.”
Having won the Wine Country Cup for 100 points in January and earning an additional 30 points for a runner-up performance at the Diablo Valley Amateur in March—both amateurgolf.com events—Geyer came into the 102nd California State Amateur in June as one of the favorites. However, a year removed from making it to the final match of California’s most prestigious event, Geyer had an early exit losing during the round of 32 in 19 holes. That result seemed like a devastating blow to another possible NCGA Player of the Year accolade, but then his game took off.
More than 1,100 points behind California State Amateur Champion Cory McElyea going into the NCGA Stroke Play Championship, Geyer was able to successfully defend his Stroke Play title with a dominating performance, winning the 54-hole event by nine strokes. Additionally, the Arbuckle native became the first player in the modern era of the event to successfully defend his title and first player to win back-to-back years since Verne Callison did so in 1958-59.
That win put Geyer back into the conversation as an NCGA Player of the Year possibility, but he still was more than 500 points off the lead. Then came a magical week at Spyglass Hill GC in August with Geyer winning five matches over a three-day period to win the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship and notch 700 more points to overtake the top spot on the points list.
“I had never won a match play event before and I got it done with a lot of guts and grit. But the stroke play was pretty cool to win by so many strokes,” said Geyer when comparing the two titles side-by-side.
Geyer was closely challenged by the aforementioned McElyea for the title edging him out by 75 points, 1,570 – 1,495, in the final tally. McElyea of Santa Cruz had a spectacular year winning the 102nd California State Amateur Championship, the Monterey City Amateur and qualifying for the 113th U.S. Open Championship. Additionally, Nick Moore of Seaside, who put an end to Geyer’s run in the state amateur beating him in extra holes during the round of 32, made a late push to finish 176 points behind. Moore’s year was highlighted with two NCGA majors of his own winning the NCGA Public Links in April and the NCGA Valley Amateur in September to help him finish third place on the points list with 1,394.
By winning his second NCGA Player of the Year award, Geyer joins an elite group, becoming the eighth player to have won multiple titles and the sixth player to win back-to-back titles. It’s something he will wear as a badge of honor going forward throughout his golfing career.
“It means a lot to be up there and obviously show that I’m one of the better players [in Northern California],” he said. “To do it two years in a row, it shows that it just wasn’t one year of really good golf.”
There will be no chance for a three-peat as Geyer has recently turned professional and hopes to be competing on a mini-tour somewhere come January. Having struggled through pre-qualifying for Web.com qualifying school, Geyer says his game is getting back on track and he’s excited for where it can lead him.
Knoll, who led the majority of the past two years on the Senior Player of the Year list, never trailed in the 2013 points season thanks to a fast start that began in the first week of the season. He accrued a good chunk of points with a quarterfinal appearance at the U.S. Senior Amateur during the first week of October 2012 before following that with a runner-up performance in the 2012 CGA Senior Amateur Championship in November, with a 100-point victory at the Salinas Valley Amateur sandwiched in between. That start of nearly 1,000 points only three fortnights into the season set him on course for not only a third straight Senior Year Player, but also a record-breaking year totaling more points than any other player in either respective race.
“I got off to a phenomenal start because of the national senior amateur,” said Knoll, who explained he was able to take advantage of the championship’s abnormal October date (as it’s traditionally held in September). “There were more points available this year than the year before and I was able to capitalize on the first [go around].”
The 3,006 points he had totaled by the season’s end was never anything planned. The 61-year-old didn’t set a goal to break the 3,000 point barrier, but it was more out of a need to stay ahead of the competition around him. With Casey Boyns winning the 2012 CGA Senior Amateur and finishing runner-up at the NCGA Senior, and Gary Vanier winning the San Francisco City Senior and Alameda Commuters Senior along with the NCGA Senior and NCGA Senior Four-Ball, Knoll never had a chance to catch his breath.
He maintained his lead on Boyns and Vanier through the spring putting together several solid performances. After a sixth place finish at the NCGA Senior, Knoll had a runner-up finish with partner Randy Haag in the NCGA Four-Ball, which was followed less than two weeks later with a third place finish at the NCGA Senior Four-Ball with partner Jeff Burda. Also in the spring, the Sunnyvale resident won the Apple City Senior Amateur in early May and the Santa Clara County Senior Championship in early June.
“I can remember back in June or July when all three of us were pretty close and you couldn’t tell who was going to do what,” he said.
In early July within a five-day span, Knoll got the push he needed to create further separation from Boyns and Vanier, with wins at the Merced County Senior and Sacramento City Senior, each worth 200 points apiece. At the end of July, he won another 100-point event in the Santa Rosa City Senior before winning his final point-event of the season, the 150-point Outlaw Cup Senior, in mid-September.
Despite his seven victories in point events across Northern California and setting the new benchmark for all amateur players participating in the point program, Knoll had a somewhat melancholy feeling toward winning the award for a third consecutive go around.
“I didn’t play this well this year as I did the last two years,” said Knoll. “I won at least one [NCGA] major in each of the other two years, so from that standpoint it’s a little disappointing.”
Having been shutout in majors is one thing, but when another player dominates the way Vanier did, winning three of the four senior majors (NCGA Senior, Senior Four-Ball and Senior Valley), Knoll has a hard time justifying being recognized as the best senior player in the region for 2013.
“Gary played so good this year. He won three of the four [NCGA] majors, won the [SCGA Senior] and he has a chance to do something that nobody has done or will [likely] ever do, which is win Nor Cal [NCGA Senior], Southern Cal [SCGA Senior] and State [CGA Senior] all in the same year,” he said.
“I know I’m the points leader, but as far as who the best player is concerned, there’s no doubt Gary was our best player.”
Although there is an argument on behalf of Vanier, the record books will show that Knoll was the 2013 NCGA Senior Player of the Year, just as they’ll recognize Vanier with his multiple NCGA senior majors in 2013. Still, Knoll is gracious as always to be recognized with the honor and winning an unprecedented third straight NCGA Senior Player of the Year.
“It means quite a bit when I sit back and think about it,” he said. “I played more this year, and the reason I played more this year was to try to become [the first] three year in-a-row winner.”
As for winning a fourth NCGA Senior Player of the Year in 2014 Knoll sees the task as rather unlikely. Already feeling extremely burnt out on all the golf he played this year, the NCGA legend plans to scale back on the number of events he competes in, but he hopes that could parlay into better performances in big events.
“I don’t think there’s as much chance of it based off the way I feel now, but since I’m going to play less, maybe I’ll play better in NCGA majors and win [Senior Player of the Year again].”