There’s still some golf left in the season, but what a way to potentially cap things off for 2021 for Gene Elliott. The Iowa Golf Hall of Famer, of West Des Moines, rallied during the final two holes of the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship and defeated Michigan’s Jerry Gunthorpe Thursday morning at the Country Club of Detroit. Elliott had started in 35 USGA Championships without a victory, but today was the day and his 36th start ended the drought.
“I’m relieved. I’m very proud. I didn’t do it by myself,” Elliott said. “I had a lot of help from a lot of different people, so it is a team win, really.”
At the beginning of the season, Elliott claimed the Golfweek Senior Amateur Championship in April at the PGA West Stadium Course. This win started the fire to the rest of Elliott’s season, including a win in May at Finkbine Golf Couse in Iowa City at the 36th Iowa Mid-Amateur (Mid-Am Division) as defending champion. He went on from there to post two second place finishes in the next four tournaments.
After a second-place finish at the George C Thomas Invitational, Elliott traveled to the R&A Senior Amateur Championship in Ganton, England. During his trip, he had to quarantine and remain in his hotel until his first round. All the nights in the hotel led Elliott to post a final round score of 70 and took the R&A Senior Amateur Championship trophy back home with him.
With the win at the R&A Senior Amateur Championship, Elliott was eligible for The Senior Open Presented by Rolex. The 59-year-old amateur made the cut and finished second in the low-amateur race. It was a successful trip out of the United States for Elliott, but it was also nice to be back home.
A couple weeks off refilled Elliott’s energy and he traveled to Talamore Golf Resort located in Southern Pines, South Carolina, to compete in the Golfweek Senior National Match Play Championship. A fifth-place finish in South Carolina helped Elliott find a second-place position in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Back in his home state, Elliott traveled to The Preserve on Lake Rathbun to try and win his sixth Iowa Senior Amateur. He earned a second-place finish and fell to a fellow Iowa Golf Hall of Famer and close friend, Mike McCoy. The two Iowa legends battled all week and little did they know, this wouldn’t be their last battle this summer.
The week after the Iowa Senior Amateur, seven Iowans qualified for the 66th U.S. Senior Open and Elliott transitioned his focus to the Country Club of Detroit. The format of the championship is like all the USGA events, stroke play and then a 64-player cut into a match play portion. Elliott knew it would be difficult, but once you get to match play anything can happen.
“It was tough, but match play is a tough format,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You can shoot 75 and win and shoot 67 and lose. Like I said before, I just try to keep doing the things that I’ve had some success with. I don’t know how it worked out, but somehow it did.”
Elliott (right) finished stroke play tied for 28th place with rounds of 74 and 71 for a 141 tally. He claimed the #38 seed in the match play portion of the championship and faced off against the #27 seeded Randy Hicken in the first round.
A 3&2 win pushed Elliott into the round of 32, where he would have to go up against Iowa Golf Hall of Famer and a friend in McCoy. In the stroke play, McCoy finished in a tie for sixth place and earned the #6 seed. The two competitors knew what needed to be done and they put on a show.
With a quick start, Elliott went up two in the first three holes. McCoy fought back and tied the match after the seventh hole. The match was tied at the turn, but Elliott made a birdie on the 10th hole and went up one. Elliott remained one up after trading holes with McCoy on 12 and 13, but McCoy stuck it on the par 3 16th to tie the match.
On 17 and 18 the Iowa Golf Hall of Famers parred, including a nifty up and down for par from the bunker on the 18th hole for Elliott, and went into extra holes. It didn’t take long for a winner to appear as Elliott made birdie and claimed the match in 19 holes. A round of 16 appearance was on the horizon for Elliott and Joe Jaspers, who currently lives outside of Iowa, but was originally from Waverly.
Only two Iowans remained after the round of 32, and Jaspers ended up falling to the No. 46 seeded Tom Gieselman. Elliott’s match with Doug Hanzel was close, but Elliott went one up on the 13th hole. Hanzel and Elliott ended up matching each other on the remaining five holes and Elliott won the match.
In the quarterfinals match, Elliott (left)had to face off with Gieselman, who recently knocked off Jaspers. Elliott brought it to him early, winning the first three holes of the match, but his lead started to dwindle away. Their match went back-and-forth until Elliott sealed it with a win on the 17th hole.
Approaching the semi-final round you would think there would be some nerves kicking in, but not for Elliott. He handled Craig Davis and won the match 5&4, with five birdies and an eagle to move on to the championship match of the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.
What a match this was, the No. 9 seeded Jerry Gunthorpe and Elliott (both right) gave the crowd what they wanted. They battled all morning and stayed close together with many pars and a sprinkle of birdies. Gunthorpe never gave Elliott a lead a majority of the way, but in the final two holes Elliott came through. Winning the last two holes gave Elliott a moment he had been waiting for.
“That match was so tough that I am not sure, did I win?” Elliott said. “I guess it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Just so much goes with that USGA title that maybe that’s why I haven’t won it in the past. It’s just so important and so meaningful to win a USGA championship.”
It was a week Elliott (right) will never forget. Whether or not he came out on top, Elliott was going to be sure he recognized his accomplishments this week.
“We both played well. We both should hold out heads high,” Elliott said. “I said to him earlier whether I won or lost I was probably going to cry. Just honored to be in the final.”
With the win, Elliott joins Paul Simson and Chip Lutz as the only three to have ever won the U.S. Senior Amateur, The R&A Senior Amateur and Canadian Men’s Senior Amateur in their career.
Next up for Elliott will be the 40th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, hosted by Sankaty Head Golf Club, Siasconset, Mass. and Miacomet Golf Course, Nantucket, Mass., Sept. 25-30.
A look at how Elliott claimed the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship…
Gene Elliott def. Jerry Gunthorpe 1 up
Gene Elliott def. Craig Davis 5&4
Gene Elliott def. Tom Gieselman 2&1
Round of 16
Gene Elliott def. Doug Hanzel 1 up
Tom Gieselman def. Joe Jaspers 1 up
Round of 32
Gene Elliott def. Mike McCoy 19 Holes
Joe Jaspers def. Sean Knapp 2&1
Round of 64
Mike McCoy def. Jim Sweeney 5&4
Gene Elliott def. Randy Hicken 3&2
Joe Jaspers def. Rick Woulfe 7&6
Stroke Play Results (Iowans)
T6. Mike McCoy -3 69-72-141
T28. Gene Elliott +1 74-71-145
T28. Joe Jaspers +1 70-75-145
MC. Joe Palmer +5 73-76-149
MC. Jim Ihm +7 77-74-151
MC. Gary Ellis +10 79-75-154
MC. Scott Briggs +12 80-76-156
What the Champion Receives
- A gold medal and custody of the Frederick L. Dold Trophy for one year
- Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Senior Amateur Championships
- Exemption into the 2022 U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
- Exemptions into the next two U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships (2021 and 2022)
- Exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateur Championships (2022 and 2023)
- Exemption into Final Qualifying for the 2022 U.S. Open Championship