Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – With a wrap on his left elbow and an insulin pump strapped to his shorts, 55-year-old Doug Hanzel could easily be mistaken for a volunteer at this week’s U.S. Amateur.
Until he swings a golf club.
Despite a few maladies, including Type 1 diabetes and tendinitis, the Savannah, Ga., physician is showing folks at Cherry Hills Country Club that age is strictly a number.
The oldest competitor among the 64 to make match play – and the second-oldest in this week’s 312-player field – Hanzel is so far defying the notion that America’s oldest national championship is a young man’s competition.
On Wednesday, he defeated 34-year-old Andrew Biggadike, of Ridgewood, N.J., 3 and 2, to reach the round of 32.
“He’s real good,” said Biggadike, who is playing his first Amateur after 17 attempts at qualifying, and his first USGA championship since the 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur. “He can play.”
Hanzel, who shot even-par 141 in 36-hole qualifying at Cherry Hills and nearby CommonGround Golf Course, is enjoying his summer. Last month, he punched his ticket to the U.S. Amateur by earning low-amateur honors (tie for 53rd) at the U.S. Senior Open. This is his 16th USGA championship overall, dating to the 1978 U.S. Amateur at Plainfield (N.J.) C.C., and the third time he has competed in match play, although in ’78 no on-site qualifying took place. The USGA re-instituted 36-hole qualifying for the 1979 U.S. Amateur at Canterbury C.C. in Cleveland.
Hanzel also qualified for match play in 1996 at Pumpkin Ridge in suburban Portland, Ore., only to lose to Trip Kuehne in the first round.
“I am a much better player [now],” said Hanzel, the oldest to qualify for match play since 1979. “I can control the golf ball better and I can get it in the hole better.”
This despite dealing with diabetes and the regular aches and pains associated with being a senior, at least in golf terms. His diabetes was detected about 14 years ago during a routine blood test. Without any of the usual symptoms, Hanzel’s blood-sugar level was discovered to be 300 (normal blood-sugar levels are around 100).
Hanzel went from managing his diabetes with pills to an insulin pump, and he soon may be wearing a glucose sensor that will tell the pump what his current levels are.
So far the pump has not affected his golf game. Hanzel makes sure to exercise regularly on his treadmill and do stretching exercises to keep limber. Earlier this year, however, he had a low blood-sugar issue and the rescue squad was called to his home. It served as a wake-up call to get the sensor.
On the golf course, though, his sugars tend to be a little higher, which is good.
“The [extra] exercise tends to keep your sugars at a normal level,” said Hanzel. “I eat a little more. [The diabetes] is just a bump in the road. It’s something you have to deal with. I have a container of glucose tablets with me at all times.
“I can usually know [when my levels are too low]. I start sweating and I feel funny. I’ll start hitting shots fat. I never hit shots fat.”
Not recently, anyway. After struggling with his putter at the U.S. Senior Open, Hanzel concentrated on his short game in preparation for the Amateur.
While a busy work schedule prevents Hanzel from playing lots of holes, he is often able to sneak out after work to putt and chip at his home club, The Landings, a six-course complex that hosted the USGA Women’s State Team Championship last fall.
Hanzel’s schedule loosened a bit two years ago when the lung specialist eliminated hospital visits. A 70-hour work week had been the norm, especially since it often included being on call during weekends and holidays.
“That has really made a tremendous change in my lifestyle,” he said.
But Hanzel admitted that wearing a beeper during Thursday afternoon golf rounds made him more focused as a golfer. It wasn’t uncommon for a nurse to call him six to eight times for his expertise or diagnosis, which he delivered between golf shots.
“There are a lot of sleepless nights in pulmonary critical care,” said Hanzel, “and a lot of phone calls. Being a physician, I learned carrying a beeper on the golf course you would get bothered all the time. It helped me focus better. You’ve got to focus for a good period of time and then let your mind wander.”
Hanzel, a Kent State graduate who has a scholarship named in his honor at the Ohio school, is finding that experience can pay off at USGA championships, especially when a majority of the field is young enough to be his grandsons.
He might not have the mammoth length, but at Cherry Hills distance isn’t a premium for success. At altitude, the 7,409-yard William Flynn design plays a lot shorter than the scorecard number and with the firmness of the fairways, longer hitters can’t just swing freely.
“This golf course is a little bit of a neutralizing factor … because you have to be so precise,” said Hanzel. “I am confident in my game. I can shoot under par on this golf course and that will win a lot of matches here.”
Against Biggadike, Hanzel didn’t make a birdie and was the equivalent of two over par – with match-play concessions – over the 16 holes. His lone missed fairway came at the par-5 11th when he found a fairway bunker. Steady golf was good enough to earn a second-round match against Steven Fox, 21, of Hendersonville, Tenn., who defeated Jeff Osberg, 3 and 2.
It’s all a bonus for a golfer who will play in both the U.S. Mid-Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur next month.
“Playing in the last two Senior Opens has helped,” said Hanzel. “[There are] a lot of crowds and a lot of pressure. As I look at this event, I have no pressure. The kids have the pressure. Losing to a 55-year-old is pressure. The further I go, there’s no pressure on me.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.