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
  • Highlands’ Artists Market to begin today

    Up-and-coming artists are being offered a rare chance to show and sell their work during the First Friday art walk.

    July 31, 2014

  • AARON SNYDER: Five Teams? Pretty Kool

    If these unseasonably cool July mornings aren’t enough to have your mind on the fast track to football, maybe some Kool Hits news will help.

    July 31, 2014

  • Golf scramble will benefit Paramount Arts Center

    Paramount Woman’s Association’s seventh annual Ladies’ Golf Scramble is scheduled for Aug. 11 at Bellefonte Country Club.

    July 30, 2014

  • Kittens call on Ingram

    Somebody had to follow Dave Miller.
    Scott Ingram is pleased to be the coach to fill the vacancy for the man who built Ashland Blazer softball into a perennial state Top 25 program. The Kittens have won the 16th Region championship every year since 2009.

    July 29, 2014

  • 0729kypgaJr0034.jpg Golfers go out with an encore

    Evan Goble said he “wasn’t completely ready for a playoff” on Monday.
    That didn’t stop him from holing two pressure-packed playoff putts to win the 13-14-year-old division of the final event of the summer on the Kentucky PGA Junior Tour at Bellefonte Country Club.
     

    July 29, 2014 4 Photos

  • EKC Grid-O-Rama set for Aug. 15-16

    The annual Eastern Kentucky Conference football scrimmage contests are set for Aug. 15-16 at Fleming County and Raceland.

    July 29, 2014

  • Holliday embraces high expectations

    As Marshall football prepares to return to the gridiron to begin fall practice Aug. 4, this season the program finds itself labeled something that it has not been in many years: a favorite.

    July 29, 2014

  • Mobley, Jude key for EKU

    Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood has revamped the Colonels’ defense in hopes of containing OVC opponents’ spread offenses.

    July 29, 2014

  • 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