U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Family Loss Fuels Lutz’s Winning Ways in Senior Amateur August 28, 2018 | Eugene, Ore. By Joey Flyntz, USGA

Past champion Chip Lutz is competing this week at Eugene Country Club with a heavy heart. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

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Chip Lutz returned to the clubhouse Tuesday afternoon at Eugene Country Club following his 4-and-2 victory over Dave Ryan to advance to the quarterfinals of the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship and said aloud to himself, “I can’t believe I made it back.”

Is it really that surprising? It was only three years ago that Lutz won this championship at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. But this golf season has been atypical for the 63-year-old from Reading, Pa. It has been a summer filled with personal loss and little competitive golf for one of the best players on the senior amateur circuit.

First, Lutz’s younger brother, Wedge – three Lutz brothers share golf-themed names, with another named Putter – a year younger to the day, died in Phoenix, Ariz., from post-surgery complications to replace a mitral valve. Less than two weeks later, Lutz’s 88-year-old mother-in-law, Betty Spatz, died following a prolonged illness in Florida.

Needless to say, golf hasn’t been high on Lutz’s priority list.

“Golf is important. It’s always been a big part of my life,” said Lutz, who earned a 10-year exemption into the Senior Amateur thanks to his 2015 triumph. “But there’s a lot of other things that have kind of gotten in the way that are more important.”

The U.S. Senior Amateur is only the third competitive event in which Lutz has played this year. He played in the Coleman Invitational at Seminole Golf Club and the Senior Open Championship at St. Andrews, highlighted by a first-round 69.

With everything in perspective, Lutz’s shock at reaching the quarterfinals rings true as genuine disbelief rather than a humble athlete playing the “aw-shucks” card.

“This year has really been a different kind of year for me,” said Lutz. “I didn't really have high expectations because I haven’t played in much competition. So, it’s a real thrill to be back in the mix.”

The Senior Amateur will be Lutz’s final competitive event of the year, so his sole focus is trying to win three more matches against a loaded quarterfinals field that includes three other USGA champions as well as the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Senior Open.

Getting the competitive juices flowing again has injected a needed dose of catharsis at a time in which having too much time to think to yourself can lead down an emotional path. But a reminder of Lutz’s loss is never more than a glance away.

Asked what his family will say when they find out he’s back in the quarterfinals, Lutz paused, his eyes turning red, and turned to his right, toward his golf bag.

“I’m sure they’re pretty proud I got this far,” he said, followed by a minute to collect his thoughts. “It helps being out there competing, but every time I look at that handkerchief, it gets to me.”

Lutz is referring to the handkerchief from Wedge’s funeral that he keeps tied to his golf bag as a reminder of his lifelong golf partner.

“I think about him a lot. We all miss him so much,” he continued. “I’m playing this week for him and the family.”

Family is at the crux of the past, present and future for Lutz. It’s been a taxing few months for Chip and his wife, Bonnie. They’ve had to be there for each other, propping each other up in times of the deepest emotional vulnerability. That too has been the case this week at Eugene Country Club, as Bonnie has walked every hole of his journey.

Their appreciation for each other is obvious.

“Life gets in the way, doesn’t it,” said Bonnie. “You have some priorities. And I think that’s where we are now. You want to hang around. It’s harder to do your own thing. Your time will come to do all that.”

Whatever happens the next two days, Chip and Bonnie are looking forward to a special time, one that will allow them to celebrate togetherness instead of loss. Their 40th anniversary is March 17. That’s St. Patrick’s Day on the calendar, but there’s certainly no luck involved in a long-lasting relationship such as theirs.     

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.