Player of the Decades Defends Amateur
by Jack Saylor
Peter Green has been around for a good long while, but he doesn't date back to the days when Alistair Mackenzie was prowling these parts designing golf courses.
And however they might be viewed as an Odd Couple, Green and Mackenzie are combined talents this spring for what should be a classic renewal of the Michigan Amateur golf championship.
The tournament will be played on the newly-renovated University of Michigan course, designed by the late, revered Mackenzie and opened in 1931.
There could be no more appropriate defending champion for such a memorable occasion than Green, whose long and glorious career seems to have gotten a new breath of life as he passes his mid-50s.
The 56-year-old plumbing and mechanical contractor from Franklin has achieved a Cy Young-Cal Ripken-Gordie Howe-Dean Smith-style record that seems destined to stay in the books as long as the books are kept. Green, a classic match-play scrapper-shotmaker-competitor, won the Amateur at Michaywe Hills in Gaylord last June at age 55.
He is the oldest to win the title and someone might eclipse that. But it not only was Green's fourth such victory, but each was achieved in a different decade -- 1969-79-89-96.
The record seems safe since those with game enough to win even once anymore are quickly whisked away to prospect for gold in the professional ranks.
"I'm still kind of amazed that it happened, to tell you the truth, but it made me feel awfully good that I could do it," Green said of his shocking six-match run at Michaywe.
His past record had earned him an exemption, but he went into the tournament thinking it might be his last effort.
"I felt for eight or 10 years I really hadn't played very well, although occasionally I would. I still love to play and compete and to be able to do it that level again was really a lot of fun."
Green said the weather (it was cool and damp throughout the '96 Amateur) and Michaywe being a relatively flat course made his task a little easier.
"After one match, I closed the fella out on the 17th hole and they were there to pick me up in a cart -- I guess they felt sorry for me," he recalled with a chuckle.
"In the next match, I closed a guy out at the 14th, which is about eight miles from the clubhouse -- that time there was no cart and I had to walk back in."
Green and the other competitors will face a tougher task walking Mackenzie's old course at Ann Arbor.
"I'm in decent shape," said Green, who spurns carts for caddies when he plays, if possible. "I'm trying to work out a little more this year and get in better shape.
"The U-M course is a damn good one and I'm looking forward to it."
Renovation, under the highly-respected Arthur Hills, got underway in 1991 to return the course to the original design of Mackenzie, who in this time period was producing such other classic courses as Crystal Downs at Frankfort, Pasatiempo and Cypress Point in California, the Augusta National, and the Scarlet course at Ohio State.
"The work was done in three phases and Hills tried to protect the integrity of Mackenzie's design," UM course manager Bob Chaddock explained.
"The bunkering and greens, lots of undulation, are classic Mackenzie. This course rewards good shots and it certainly penalizes poor ones.
"The greens will certainly pose a challenge and good putters will do well. I think it's a good match play course."
It was during this renovation process that arrangements were made to schedule the Amateur there.
"There was a feeling at the university that once the course was restored to the original design and quality, they wanted to showcase it for the best players in Michigan," said Brett Marshall, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan. "The way to do it was to hold the Michigan Amateur. Some of our people were involved in the fund-raising effort to restore the course."
By chance, one happened to be Dr. Dick Papp, the current GAM board president. The rest of the task was easy.
"I think it will be one of the most popular courses we've ever had for the tournament," Marshall said. "It truly is a great golf course.
"The greens will present a wide array of obstacles_they're very large, very undulating and the many hole locations available gives us the chance to add a lot of variety in the setup of the course."
Green has played the course ("usually once a year, at least," he said) and thinks the changes were all good.
"But I don't know the course as well as a lot of the guys who went to school at Michigan," the former Tarheel star said. "It's a lot more up and down than Michaywe was and that will be a factor, too."
Marshall already has formulated a list of possible favorites, noting that players with experience will have an obvious edge.
Said the GAM chief: "If Jason Buha, who is playing at Duke, plays in the Amateur, I think he'll be one of the favorites. He's clearly one of the very best players we've got. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Radrick Farms and just missed match
play at the tournament."
Already, one can conjure up a possible natural match -- the young Duke star against Green, the wily old North Carolina grad.
Former champion Randy Lewis of Alma is another obvious choice after a brilliant year in which he reached the finals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
"That tournament opened up a lot of schedule opportunities out of state," Marshall said, "but he said he was pointing to the Michigan Amateur, too."
But whoever shows up likely will have Green to contend with. At age 56, his confidence is better than it was at age 55.
"I'll go in with a lot different mental outlook this year," he said, "but I think my opponents will, too.
"If I'm fortunate enough to make match play, they won't be feeling sorry for an old guy. I also don't think people will be looking ahead past me, like maybe some might have last year."
Green had found preparing for the championship difficult in recent years. "And with more depth in the field, now, it takes a little more preparation," he said.
"It can be a hassle. It's a long tournament (two qualifying rounds and a potential three day's match play.) To do it right, I used to be able to go to Belvedere (at Charlevoix) over the previous weekend and play some. "Then you could scrape it through the qualifying and maybe you're ready for the matches. But my confidence is up now after last year.
"I feel I can beat anybody on a given day," Green said. "But there are a lot of guys in the state, if we played 10 matches, they'd probably beat me six or seven times.
"But on a given 18-hole match, if I play well, I think I can beat just about anybody."
It's a fact Pete Green has proven time and again.
Jack Saylor is the golf writer for the Detroit Free Press.
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