George Washburn only tells part of the story but luckily John Blank fills in the details. After an opening 79 at the Golfweek U.S. Super Senior, Legends, & Super Legends National Championship at the Falls Club in Lake Worth, Florida, on Thursday, Washburn bemoaned his putter.
“My putting has been a problem all summer,” Washburn said.
Blank, meanwhile, sings the praises of Washburn’s driver. Couple it with short game, and it’s easy to see how Washburn continually lands among the top-ranked seniors in the country. When both those parts of Washburn’s game are humming, Blank said, the man is unbeatable.
Blank, 73, should know. He’s right there with him at the top. So far in 2020, Washburn, 74, is the top-ranked player in the legends division (players age 70 to 74) according to the Golfweek Senior Rankings.
Blank, of Frostburg, Maryland, and Washburn, of Frederick, Maryland, have traded that No. 1 spot back and forth these past two seasons. The top two players in the super senior rankings, John Armstrong and Jim Castagna, also hail from Maryland. Armstrong and Blank live minutes apart in Frostburg. Blank says they practice relentlessly together, compete and push each other.
“We feed off of each other and I guess it’s the competition,” Blanks said of the Maryland senior phenomenon.
Blank’s game shines around the greens.
“I don’t hit the ball that far but if my short game, wedges and chipping and putting is on, then I can compete with anybody in our division,” he said.
His even-par 72 in the opening round of the Golfweek Senior left him in second, behind only Charley Yandell of Cashiers, North Carolina, who came in with an opening 70.
It’s a beautiful day here at The Falls Club for the start of the second round of the Golfweek Super Senior, Legends & Super Legends National Championship. @TheFallsClubPB @GolfweekEvents pic.twitter.com/TfqjFF5ETI
— Ron Gaines (@golfweekron) October 9, 2020
Blank calls Washburn, his fellow Maryland stalwart, the tactician. Washburn is the guy who scouts courses on Google Earth and keeps track of the points standings from one tournament to the next.
“If I have any questions on who’s ahead or how many am I behind, he’ll know the answer,” Blank said.
Elite senior amateurs like Washburn and Blank could find a dedicated tournament to tee it up in nearly every week of the year. Some were canceled or postponed in light of COVID, but Blank will still get in 11 starts this year. He played 19 times in 2019.
Blank, who has never tried to qualify for a USGA event, still works part-time in the family business, Blank’s Tavern. He has lived in Frostburg his whole life, having grown up there and played one year on the varsity team at Frostburg State University.
Washburn, a retired engineer who spent his career working for Bechtel, played three years of college golf at Penn State from 1965-68. He played in the 1967 NCAA Championship. Despite qualifying for the national tournament again the next year, Washburn didn’t play. He was completing ROTC summer camp.
Washburn was born in Alabama, grew up mainly in Ohio before moving to Philadelphia in high school, and has spent 27 years in Maryland. When asked why so many good senior golfers of late have called Maryland home, he references the climate.
“We have usually a reasonably good season,” he said. “Last year, we played all year. We had one day of snow, about an inch of snow. We could play all year round.”
Washburn typically plays in about 20 national senior events through the year and is a force, together with partner Barry Flaer, in the Maryland Senior Four-Ball.
“I’ve been up near the top and won a lot of tournaments so played well,” he said of his goal in this game. “I’m just trying to go out and win a tournament when I enter. That’s about my only goal.”
He competed in the 2002 U.S. Senior Open but has mostly given up USGA qualifiers, feeling like he no longer has the length to compete at that level. Washburn, a formidable competitor in the mid-70s cohort, hopes someday the USGA might create an opportunity for that age group.
“There’s a lot of senior golfers out there, very good golfers, that are over 65 and there’s a world of difference between 55 and 65,” he said. “Fifty-five-year-olds hit it a long way and 65, still a few guys that are long but not that are anywhere near as long as the younger guys.
“It would be nice to have a national championship that supported that age.”
Should that ever come to fruition, there’s a crew of men from Maryland who would be a good bet to carry off the title.