Don Thames of Rancho Murieta reached the U.S. Senior Open after winning a playoff to be a first alternate.

Making the Rounds: Being an alternate pays off for Rancho Murieta's Don Thames

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013 - 7:55 am

The last thing golfers want to do after grinding all day trying to qualify for a tournament is play off to determine their ranking among the also-rans.

Whether it's for a national or club championship, golfers know two things in that situation: They frustratingly missed their qualifying goal by the narrowest of margins; and "winning" a playoff that determines the hierarchy among alternates is almost always meaningless.

Don Thames shot a 1-under-par 71 at Salinas' Corral de Tierra on June 24 while trying to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open. That left him tied for third in the 85-man field, with the top two earning berths into this week's Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club.

Thames and Fresno's Tommy Masters played extra holes to determine who would be the first alternate from Salinas, one of 34 qualifying sites around the country. Thames was deflated, and with good reason – he was the first alternate at his qualifying site in 2012, which got him nowhere.

"I didn't think it was relevant," Thames said of the playoff. "I was the first alternate last year. Sure I wanted to win, but in some sense I wasn't overtrying."

That may have worked in his favor. Thames birdied the second playoff hole with a 25-foot putt to earn first-alternate status. Good thing, because last Tuesday the United States Golf Association called to say that Nick Price had withdrawn because of an elbow injury and Thames was next up.

The wheels have been whirling since. On Friday, Rancho Murieta community members held a fundraiser to defray the cost of an unplanned trip to Nebraska for their director of golf. On Monday, Thames played a practice round with Fred Funk and Esteban Toledo. He planned to join Rocco Mediate and Hale Irwin on Tuesday and Tom Lehman and Scott Hoch today.

"I'm having a blast," he said Monday.

This isn't Thames' first 50-and-over foray. He advanced to the Champions Tour final qualifying stage in 2004. He missed the cut at the U.S. Senior Open in 2008. He was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Senior Amateur in 2010. Now 58, he knows there may not be many more.

Thames' wife and regular caddie, Carole, is off the bag. Omaha Country Club champion Nick Vondrak is on. Omaha, a hilly layout with severely undulating greens, is set up with a course rating of 74.9 and slope of 140. Thames said it suits him.

"It's similar to Rancho Murieta in that it has a couple of long, 200-yard-plus par-3s and three monster 450-yard-plus par-4s," he said. "It's not intimidating as much as it is just plain difficult."

He said he's flushing the ball after recently moving it more forward in his stance.

"In ball-striking, I'm in the 90th percentile for me," Thames said. "It would be icing on the cake if I were able to make a few putts. That would be really fun."

Et cetera

Natalie Gulbis is engaged to Josh Rodarmel, Golf World reported last week. Gulbis, 30, met Rodarmel, 29, a few years ago through Power Balance, the supposed performance-enhancing wristband company that Rodarmel co-founded. Power Balance filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011.

Corey Pereira (Cameron Park) won the Northern California Golf Association Junior Amateur on Tuesday. His three-round total of 4-under 212 at Spyglass Hill was one stroke better than Andrej Bevins (Elk Grove). Josh Sedeno (Roseville) won the boys 14-15 division with a three-round total of 225.

• The PGA Tour will return to Silverado in Napa in early October 2014 for the season-opening Open. The event is moving from CordeValle, just south of San Jose. Silverado was home to the Kaiser International Open Invitational from 1968 to 1976, and the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic for four years after that.

Ryan Williams was selected the Sacramento State Male Student-Athlete of the Year and America Sky Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The senior from Clovis set the school season record for scoring average, his 72.69 eclipsing Robert Hamilton's 72.88 in 1997-98.

Emily Laskin (Elk Grove) qualified for the U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur in Fort Wayne, Ind., later this month.

Call The Bee's Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.

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