Bland Wins 44th U.S. Senior Open

By Joe McDonald

RIGA Senior Writer


NEWPORT – The State of Rhode Island, Newport Country Club, the United States Golf Association and the Rhode Island Golf Association should be proud for successfully conducting an impressive 44th U.S. Senior Open Championship. 


It was an incredible week here and no one was disappointed. After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 41st U.S. Senior Open here, many were disappointed and didn’t know whether the USGA and NCC would be able to bring the championship back here on this iconic venue. It didn’t take long to figure it out and the championship was rescheduled for 2024. 


Rhode Islanders Billy Andrade, Brett Quigley and Brad Faxon were the de facto hosts for their golfing brethren and all three were proud to showcase their home state. 


“Simply amazing,” Andrade said after he finished the championship even-par with rounds of 64-74-71-71 – 280. “Everything I imagined would happen, happened. It was an unbelievable course, setting, Rhode Island, Newport, it just makes me feel very proud to be a Rhode Islander – for sure.” 


Quigley finished 2-over with rounds of 70-68-70-74 – 282. 


“It was an incredible week,” Quigley said. “The show coming to town here, coming to Rhode Island was fantastic. Rhode Island and the golf course showed incredibly well and all of Rhode Island should be proud. It was really cool.” 



Despite a two-hour delay Sunday morning and suspension of play for the day at 3 p.m., Mother Nature cooperated earlier in the week. Players and fans enjoyed perfect weather during the practice rounds, while Thursday and Friday were also spectacular. Saturday was a bit hazy, and Sunday was a challenge. Eventually, play resumed at 8 a.m. Monday and finished in near perfect conditions. The only thing missing was the gallery. It was a non-ticketed event and was only open to credentialed personnel and guests due to the course conditions. 


Still, it was impressive to watch Richard Bland outlast Hiroyuki Fujita in a four-hole playoff to win the championship. Bland made an incredible up-and-down out of the bunker on No. 18 to save par and win the championship. Afterwards he stood on the green, glanced out at the water with the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy in his hands. 


“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” Bland said of his week-long experience in Rhode Island. “What a beautiful place to come play golf. The course, as soon as I saw it, I loved it. The town is such a great place to just go out, get a coffee and watch the world go by. What a beautiful part of the world. Hopefully I can come back soon.” 


Overall, Newport shined. Anytime you’re on property it feels like taking a step back in time and the U.S. Senior Open added another epic chapter to Newport Country Club. 


“Is there a better place to hang out for the week than Newport, Rhode Island? How beautiful is this place? There are some pretty cool golf venues in the world, but I’m not sure there’s any one better than this,” said USGA CEO Mike Whan. 


Newport Country Club has hosted a total of five USGA Championships. It held the first U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in 1895, along with the 1995 U.S. Amateur and 2006 U.S. Women’s Open. The iconic clubhouse that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean is a perfect backdrop for both players and fans. 


Charles Blair Macdonald won the first U.S. Amateur, while Horace Rawlins posted the first U.S. Open victory here. 


Tiger Woods captured his second of three consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships here in 1995. He was only 19 when he defeated Buddy Marucci 2-up. Fans flooded the historic venue to get a glimpse of golf’s future. It was an epic championship and fans were thrilled with what they witnessed. In 2006, Annika Sorenstam won her third U.S. Women’s Open when she defeated Pat Hurst by four strokes in an 18-hole playoff at Newport CC. 


Bland can add his name to that impressive list. 


Another historic moment also occurred this week. In fact, it was an almost unfathomable feat when Frank Bensel recorded back-to-back holes-in-one on Friday. He first aced No. 4 (173 yards) and then repeated the magic on No. 5 (202 yards) and used his 6-irong both times. Unfortunately, since he was in the first group out for Round 2, not many people witnessed the event. It was even too early for the television cameras to be rolling, so there’s no footage of his two aces. Bensel, 56, donated his club, ball and glove to the USGA Museum in Liberty Corner, N.J.


“To even think that could happen was amazing,” Bensel said. 


Former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona served as the championship’s honorary chairman this week. He was extended the invitation last November, and since he’s retired for the first time in his baseball career, it allowed him to participate in the U.S. Senior Open. He attended Friday’s round and was in awe of the players and the course. Francona was able to play the course in May and shot an 83. He wanted to stay for the weekend, but he had family obligations to attend. 


“I was honored to be asked and thrilled to be able to do it,” Francona said. “I continue to be so impressed with how the entire Champions Tour seem to not only enjoy what they are doing but embrace it.” 


Newport CC superintendent Chris Coen and his staff received kudos all week from players and fans. The conditions were time and again described as perfect and the course did not disappoint. 



“It’s fantastic,” Quigley said of the golf course. “Chris and his staff have been unbelievable this week. The course is perfect. The greens are great. The fairways are great. Everything is the way it should be.” 


Tournaments, especially championships of this magnitude are nearly impossible to run without the help of volunteers. People from all over the country registered to volunteer and a total of 1,100 were utilized this week. 



“Participating at the U.S. Senior Open as a volunteer was a great experience,” said Bill Graves, of Attleboro, who served as a marshal and is a member at Kirkbrae Country Club. “One of the things that struck me about the players is that these guys are human – just like us. They’re incredibly talented golfers, but they have the same conversations on the course that we do. They love the game and get excited for each other when a competitor hits a ridiculously good shot. 


“Also, meeting to other volunteers that came to Newport from all over the country to participate was a highlight for me. Hearing their stories and seeing how impressed they were with the iconic golf course and the town of Newport was great. Being able to help the USGA in a very small way was special as well. It was a tremendous experience all-around.” 


The 45th U.S. Senior Open will be held at Broadmoor Golf Club on the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs next June. Good luck because the Rhode Island and Newport Country Club experience will be tough to beat.