Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 28, 2013

Gagai qualifies for U.S. Senior Open

South Point teacher plans to ‘soak it all in’ come July

ASHLAND — John Gagai wouldn't call it a dream come true because he'd never even dreamt of such a moment.

That's why, when he came off the 18th green at Worthington Hills Country Club last Monday with a friend saying "You're in, you're in," the 55-year-old Ironton native wasn't sure how to react. He was just happy to have finished strong with back-to-back birdies.

The South Point High School teacher impressively posted a 4-under 67 on the Columbus course to etch his name into the U.S. Senior Open field of 156. The elite tournament will be held at the Omaha Country Club in Omaha, Neb., on the week of July 8. Practice rounds are Monday-Wednesday, while the four-round event begins on Thursday, July 11. It will be televised on ESPN2 and NBC.

Don Pollard, a close friend from Portsmouth, played a key role in convincing Gagai to enter into last Monday's qualifier.

"Donnie's already qualified for the Senior Open twice before," Gagai said. "I played a practice round with him and he told me, 'John, there's nobody up here better than you or me. It's one day, just get what you can out of it.'"

Those words relaxed Gagai, who settled into a groove from the get-go.

"On the first hole, I hit a nice shot in the fairway," Gagai said. "I told myself, I'm going to be aggressive and I'm going to set a goal for six birdies today."

Gagai finished with five birdies, 12 pars and a lone bogey. Lee Houtteman, of Glen Arbor, Mich., finished second with a 68. He also qualified.

Heading into the 17th hole at 2-under, Gagai was just hoping to close out with a couple pars. Instead, he sank a 40-foot putt for birdie on No. 17 and then just needed a short birdie putt on No. 18.

"I've been striking the ball well, playing with a lot of confidence," Gagai said. "God was with me that day. I thank the Lord for looking over me."

The last few days have been a whirlwind.

"Nerve-racking, a lot of planning," he said.

Gagai will be traveling to Omaha with his wife, his two sons, his daughter in-law and his son's girlfriend. His brother and a friend from Cincinnati are also planning on paying witness to Gagai's U.S. Senior Open experience.

"I'll probably be a nervous wreck," he said with a laugh.

Among those the amateur will join in facing the rolling Nebraska course are Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Tom Kite, Brad Faxon and Fred Funk.

"My friends and co-golfers, they're getting a kick out of the whole thing. My family, too," Gagai said. "That's giving me more joy than I have for myself."

Gagai said his two biggest points of emphasis now are exercising (to get accustomed to walking the course on a hot day) and working intently on his short game (100 yards and in).

"I'm just going to try to soak it all in and just enjoy it," Gagai said. "Just try to keep a clear mind."

Gagai played for St. Joseph and Marshall University. He has won 12 Ironton Country Club championships. He spent some time in the 1980s as a professional before going back to amateur status.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.

1
Text Only
Local Sports
  • ZACK KLEMME: Punchless Reds wasting solid pitching

    The last nine days have been an exercise in understanding just how slim the margin for error is for baseball teams — even good ones — that can’t score.

    July 27, 2014

  • 0726fbPrac0079.jpg Practice rolls on as kickoff approaches in less than 5 weeks

    As high school football teams strap on helmets and prepare for Friday nights next month, the theme of the first couple of weeks of practice for most is simple.
    You gotta work. Hard.
    And if you don’t, it’ll be exposed come Aug. 22.
    “Everybody looks good in helmets,” Ashland coach Tony Love said with a grin. “We’re all undefeated. There’s a lot of work to get done.
    “Our coaches and kids, we all know it, and that’s why they’re here and we’re here, and we’re gonna push hard every day.”

    July 25, 2014 4 Photos

  • kenzie-breaststroke.jpg Pennington makes push for Nationals

    Swimmer Kenzie Pennington had one last chance to make the cut for this year’s YMCA Long Course National Championships.
    The 15-year-old from Ashland didn’t disappoint.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Salyers shoots 75 for title at Lakeside

    Baylee Salyers of Flatwoods shot a 3-over par 75 at Lakeside Golf Course on Thursday to win the Girls Open division of the Walmart Kentucky PGA Junior Tour event.

    July 24, 2014

  • 0724putnamwebshot.JPG Laying the foundation Workers are finishing the foundation for the locker room on the home side of Putnam Stadium on Tuesday. The Ashland Tomcats open the football season on Aug. 22 against Newport Catholic.

    July 23, 2014

  • Genuine throwback

    Todd Eastham is disproving the old cliche, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

    July 23, 2014

  • MARK MAYNARD: Looking for those who inspire

    Inspirtation, they say, comes from within. It is defined as an inspiring or animating action or influence.

    July 22, 2014

  • 0722KYPGA_152.jpg Jones tops Gillum in playoff at Eagle Trace

    Ashland senior golfer Logan Jones didn't shoot his average Monday.
    He didn't mind.
    His three-over par 75 and one-hole playoff win over Elliott County junior Ryan Gillum gave him the Boys Open division title in the Kentucky PGA Junior Tour stop at Morehead State University's Eagle Trace Golf Course.

    July 21, 2014 6 Photos

  • 102213_329a.jpg Raceland tabs Clark as new girls basketball coach

    Jason Clark has a reputation of being — to use his word — “passionate” on the Raceland volleyball sideline.
    He plans to bring that same approach as the Lady Rams’ new basketball coach.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0305region2_389.jpg Pass the Mayo: East sophomore PG, Lady Raiders preparing for winter run

    East Carter sophomore point guard Kristen Mayo has played basketball for as long as she can remember.

    July 18, 2014 2 Photos