He defended his title.
West Des Moines’ Gene Elliott (pictured above), now 59, kept the big numbers off the scorecard and left with the trophy he came with at the 36th Iowa Mid-Amateur Championship. Elliott admitted the course host, Finkbine Golf Course, wasn’t the same as he remembered from years past – going back many years.
“It wasn’t the same old Finkbine that I remember,” Elliott said of the tough conditions players battled over 36 holes. “It was really, really dry. The greens were firm and fast. I have never seen them that fast at Finkbine and that goes back to high school. It looked like if you hung in there and made pars, you were going to be ok. I was very fortunate with the way things ended up.”
Hung in there he did, posting rounds of 74-73 (+3) for the championship, which got him into a playoff against Van Meter’s Scot Cook.
“In a 36-hole event a big number can take you out of it right away, unless you make a bunch of birdies,’ Elliott said. “You knew if you got above the hole, you would have trouble two putting from there.”
Somewhat similar to his victory at Sunnyside CC last fall, Elliott found himself giving chase entering the final round, down three strokes to Nate McCoy, of Ankeny, who opened with 71 (-1).
“I thought if I could get it under par somehow, I might have a chance.,” Elliott said. “I made a couple birdies on #6 and #7. I turned in one-under par and looked at scores and saw guys behind me were struggling a bit. I knew we had a shootout going and would have a chance if I played a good back nine.”
Elliott proceeded to make seven straight pars before bogeys on the final two holes of the day.
“Even with the poor finish I thought I was still in it,” Elliott said. “I had no idea if I would win or be in a playoff or lose by one. I really didn’t know.”
Luckily for Elliott, the late bogeys didn’t cost him a chance at his sixth Iowa Mid-Amateur title, but he would have to earn it in a playoff beginning on the demanding par-3 17th hole at Finkbine GC.
“I left it short left (off the tee), but had a pretty straight forward chip up the slope,” Elliott said. “Although I did hit it about three and half feet past the hole, which I didn’t want to do. Then Scot hit just a beautiful par putt after hitting it in the bunker. It just slowly lipped on the high side. He hit a great putt there. Then I got up and made my downhill (par) putt.”
Elliott, now a six-time Iowa Mid-Amateur champion, credited his short game to his success over the two days.
“My chipping has really been good this winter and I have putted pretty solid,” Elliott said. “I stayed away from that big number and didn’t make any doubles. I made a lot of comeback putts and that was the difference. “
In the Senior Division Norwalk’s Joe Palmer captured the title, battling back from two strokes down going into the final round. Palmer shot rounds of 76-74 (+6) for a one-shot lead over Jeff Collett, of Ottumwa.
“Being a former Iowa Hawkeye, I’ve played a lot of rounds at Finkbine,” Palmer said. “But when I showed up, I was like where are we at? The greens were phenomenal speed, lots of deep rough and fairways were running firm. It was enjoyable and it tested us for sure.”
Palmer, who admitted he didn’t make a lot of birdies over the two-day event, made a lot of pars and knew that would be key to success. To his credit, Palmer didn’t make many bogeys either.
“I knew it was going to be a tournament where even par or a couple over would be right there,” Palmer said. “I made some good putts on Saturday that kept me in it (in the final round). You knew you had to make those. Playing a little more conservatively with the way the greens were, might yield a better score. I tried to keep the ball in play and not get aggressive trying to make a bunch of birdies. Making pars was beneficial for me.”
In the Super Senior Division Rob Christensen, of Marshalltown, played consistent golf. Christensen posted rounds of 75-75 (+6) to win by four strokes thanks to keeping double-bogey or worse off the scorecard for 36-holes. Mason City’s Joel Yunek finished runner-up with rounds of 75-79 (+10).
“It wasn’t that I didn’t get in trouble, but I was able to escape,” Christensen said. “A lot of my playing buddies weren’t so lucky. The key to Finkbine, if there is one, you always had to stay below the hole. If you got above it, buckle up. I thought 75 would be a real good score. Jim Butler shot 71 (in round one) and I was impressed with that. I thought if I shot another 75 (in the second round) I might have a chance. Obviously it depended on how Jim and some of the other guys did. They made some mistakes and I didn’t. I was able to make (a lot of) those three to five foot putts.”