Erin, Wis. – The rest of Gene Elliott’s life began on Feb. 14, 2000, when he underwent emergency open-heart surgery to repair an aneurysm on his aorta.
The doctors said after the surgery, ‘Go live your life. You’re going to be fine now. We fixed it. You’re good to go.’ So, that’s what I did, the West Des Moines, Iowa, golfer recalled. I mean, if I was going to die, I was going to die that day. But you just never know.
Indeed, you just don’t. Elliott, 49, is back in the U.S. Amateur for the first time since 2007, and although he suffered a rough day Monday at Erin Hills, shooting a 6-over-par 78, he was nonetheless happy to have had a go at a golf course that measures more than 7,700 yards.
Hey, 8,000 yards isn’t exactly up my alley. But you have to play the cards you're dealt, he said with a shrug.
Elliott, a reinstated amateur, has, at times, been an ace, winning the 1998 Porter Cup and finishing as the stroke-play medalist in the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. The equipment business owner also has won his state amateur and state open twice apiece. This week’s Amateur appearance is his seventh among 22 USGA events in which he’s participated.
But his golf has been trumped several times by health issues, most recently a year ago when he underwent a procedure to correct an afibrilation in his heart. He battled the condition for the first five months and was hospitalized eight times as his heart raced for up to 160 beats a minute.
Between that and medications that sapped his strength, it’s no wonder he didn’t play golf for most of the year. Golf just wasn’t a lot of fun, said Elliott, who had the surgery June 22 in Minneapolis.
He didn’t return to the course until October, but when the new year began, his game started coming around. Leading up to this week he’d been on a bit of a roll, winning the Waterloo Amateur and then the state amateur at his home course, Glen Oaks, with his 17-year-old son, Sam, on the bag as his caddie.
Then came his success in the U.S. Amateur qualifier. Monday’s disappointing day will make it difficult for him to be among the top 64 players to advance to match play, but Elliott just chuckled at the suggestion that maybe he’d bitten off more than he could chew at Erin Hills.
Look, I’m not a bomber like these kids are. I have to go with what I’ve got, Elliott said philosophically. It was funny walking up to some of the tees and the volunteers were all happy to see me in there, trying. They’re saying, ‘Hey, you’re one of us.’
But, you know, it’s just fun being here. I’m healthy and I’m over last year, which wasn’t so great. So to be doing this again, I’m not going to complain about a golf course being too hard or anything.
Then he added, But I am looking forward to playing Blue Mound [Golf & Country Club] tomorrow [for the second round of qualifying]. Yeah, it’s 6,600 yards. Now that’s my kind of golf course. And you never know.
Yes, you just never know.