Albany native Bill Clanton, center, smiles proudly as he stands with friends Ed Everett, right, and Bobby Newsome after winning a qualifier Thursday at Doublegate for the USGA U.S. Senior Amateur Open in N.J. (Photo courtesy of Doublegate Country Club)
ALBANY — When Albany native and Leesburg resident Bill Clanton made par on the second playoff hole Thursday at Doublegate Country Club — earning him a third-place finish in the U.S. Senior Amateur Open qualifier and a spot in the prestigious tournament that’s set for Sept. 29 in West Caldwell, N.J. — he could only think of one person he wanted to share the moment with.
“My momma,” said the 57-year-old Clanton. “I won this for her. She’s been in hospice for awhile now, and they gave her three months to live awhile back — but she’s still living, even if she ain’t doing so good. She almost died two nights ago, and she was all that was on my mind all day (Thursday). So when I won, I went straight to her and told her, ‘Momma, I love ya, and I did this for you.’ ”
Clanton, who started playing the sport when his mother, Betty, took him to the All-American Fun Park in Albany at the age of 8 and challenged him to learn how to maneuver the putt-putt course, has never played high school- or college-level golf. But he’s made the sport his passion for much of his life, and Thursday he was rewarded with a trip to America’s biggest senior amateur tournament every year.
“I had the course record of 23 there at one point,” laughed Clanton at how he honed his golf game at the Fun Park. “And every birdie I make these days, I always say, ‘Thank you (Fun Park owners) Robert and Rita (Hall) for putting up with me out there all these years.’ ”
Clanton’s journey to N.J., where he’ll tee off at Mountain Ridge Country Club in just a few weeks, is even more inspiring considering he suffered a stroke just five years ago. And while that may slow some down, Clanton says the effect was just the opposite with him.
“I had a stroke on a Monday, and by that Thursday I was playing golf again,” he said. “In fact, I went out and made a hole-in-one my first time back playing. Heck, I think my golf game has gotten better since I had the stroke.”
Clanton, a zero-handicap, beat out a field of 50 players from around the southeast for the coveted final spot in the U.S. Senior Amateur as he parred the second playoff hole on No. 18 to edge Seminole, Fla.’s John Miller, who carded a bogey.
Clanton, whose finish only secures his spot in the tournament — getting to N.J. and covering his expenses is all on him — said he doesn’t think making the trip will be a problem.
“Man ... I had so many friends at Doublegate cheering me on, and when I won they all talked about chipping in to get me there,” he said. “One of them even said, ‘Hey, let’s get a party bus and all go up together.’ So we might just do that. I can’t wait.”