U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Elliott Claims Elusive USGA Title With U.S. Senior Am Win September 2, 2021 | Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. By David Shefter, USGA

In his 36th USGA start, Gene Elliott finally claimed a title, winning the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur at the C.C. of Detroit. (Jeff Hayes/USGA)

66th U.S. Senior Amateur Home

What Happened

Gene Elliott finally owns that elusive USGA title. The 59-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa, who has been one of the most accomplished amateur golfers in the post-World War II era not to have won a national championship, rallied to defeat Jerry Gunthorpe, 58, of Ovid, Mich., 1 up, in Thursday’s 18-hole final of the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Detroit.

Elliott, competing in his 36th USGA championship, never led until Gunthorpe failed to convert an 8-foot par putt on the 18th green. He now joins Chip Lutz and Paul Simson as the only players to have claimed the national senior titles of the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

Earlier this summer, Elliott won the Senior Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A at Ganton Golf Club in England. He previously had won a pair of Canadian Senior Amateur titles, among his many accomplishments that also include victories in the prestigious Porter Cup and Terra Cotta Invitational as well as 15 Iowa state titles, three Iowa Amateurs among them.

He also joins Ed Updegraff (1981) as the only U.S. Senior Amateur champions from the state of Iowa.

Lately, the U.S. Senior Amateur has been claimed by players who have had distinguished careers, competitors such as Doug Hanzel (2013), Simson (2010, 2012), Lutz (2015), Sean Knapp (2017) and Jeff Wilson (2018). Elliott, the medalist in the 1999 U.S. Amateur who has competed in 15 U.S. Mid-Amateurs, fits into that category.

“That match was so tough that I am not sure, did I win?” said Elliott. “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.

“I'm relieved. I'm very proud. I didn't do it by myself. I had a lot of help from a lot of different people, so it is a team win, really.” 

Gunthorpe was hoping to continue the Michigan mojo that began with Michigan State standout James Piot winning the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club nearly three weeks ago and carried through the Taylor Little League team’s World Series championship in Williamsport, Pa., last Sunday. Right from the opening hole on another perfect weather day, Gunthorpe showed Elliott he was going to be a tough out, converting a 15-foot par putt to tie the hole.

It stayed close throughout with Elliott tying the match with a birdie on No. 7. Gunthorpe and Elliott swapped winning birdies on Nos. 9 and 10, and Elliott converted a 5-foot birdie on the 130-yard 13th after losing the previous hole with a bogey.

When Elliott missed a 2½-foot par putt on the 16th hole to go 1 down, it appeared Gunthorpe might be poised to put his name on the trophy.

But a wayward drive to the right on the 524-yard, par-5 17th forced Gunthorpe to lay up, and his third shot came up 40 feet short of the flagstick. He left his birdie attempt 5 feet short and missed his par putt, and Elliott converted his 2-footer for par to tie the match.

Another drive to the right on the 421-yard closing hole left Gunthorpe with a tricky approach that had to carry the right-greenside bunker. He caught it flush and the ball caromed over the green. His recovery stopped 8 feet to the right of the flagstick. Elliott’s approach found the middle of the green, and he cozied the 27-footer to within a foot for a conceded par.

When Gunthorpe failed to force the first extra-hole match in a U.S. Senior Amateur final in 18 years, hats came off and emotions flowed from both players.

“Maybe a little nerves there where I couldn't get the putter to release,” said Gunthorpe of his two missed par putts on 17 and 18, his only two bogeys of the match. “I thought I put a good roll on [the long birdie attempt on 17]. Same thing with the second one [for par], but I might have missed my line just a little bit.”

Elliott hugged his caddie, Adam Hanson, then had a long embrace with his wife, Dalena. He also was congratulated by his short-game coach, John Traub.

It capped off a memorable week for Elliott, who went through a gauntlet of tough opponents, beginning with fellow Iowan and 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Michael McCoy in the Round of 32, when he converted an 18-foot par putt to force extra holes. He defeated Hanzel, the top senior golfer in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® (Elliott is No. 2) in the Round of 16, Oakland Hills member and local favorite Tom Gieselman in the quarters and Craig Davis, who edged him in a playoff for the 2017 British Senior Amateur title, in the semifinals.

“We both played well. We both should hold our heads high. I said to him earlier, whether I won or lost I was probably going to cry. Just honored to be in the final.”

And now with his name on a USGA trophy.

Gene Elliott celebrated his U.S. Senior Amateur title on Thursday with his longtime caddie Adam Hanson. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

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

Notable

  • Runner-up Jerry Gunthorpe received a silver medal, an exemption into the next three U.S. Senior Amateur Championships, an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Senior Open Championship, an exemption into the 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship (at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Siasconset, Mass.) and an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Amateur Championship (at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.)

  • The 2022 U.S. Senior Amateur will be conducted at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass., from Aug. 27-Sept. 1.

  • As the U.S. Senior Amateur champion, Gene Elliott will likely be paired in the 2022 U.S. Senior Open with reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Jim Furyk and reigning Senior British Open champion Stephen Dodd.

  • Elliott shot the equivalent of 1-under 71, with the usual match-play concessions, while Gunthorpe carded a 70.

  • While Gunthorpe is now exempt into the U.S. Mid-Amateur later this month, his son, Nick, earned first-alternate status following a 4-for-3 playoff. Nick competed in the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Colorado Golf Club. Gunthorpe thanked his oldest son, Nathan, who served as his caddie this week.

  • Gunthorpe was vying to become the third player from Michigan to win the U.S. Senior Amateur. Previous champions were Tom Draper (Troy) in 1971 and Greg Reynolds (Grand Blanc) in 2002.

  • Michael McCoy, who is one of Elliott’s closest friends and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball partner, emailed him on Wednesday night the clip of 1980 USA ice hockey coach Herb Brooks’ speech to the team prior to the “Miracle on Ice” game against the Soviet Union. McCoy said he watched the speech on the eve of his 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur final victory over Bill Williamson.

Quotable

“It was tough, but match play is a tough format. 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.” – Gene Elliott on the tough encounters he overcame this week to take the title

“I met [Jim] Furyk and [his caddie] Fluff [Cowan]. His clubs didn't come to Sunningdale [for the 2021 Senior British Open], so they were walking the course during our practice round. Fluff went to college in Iowa. Because he's from Maine, I said, ‘How in the heck did you get to Oskaloosa, Iowa, to attend William Penn College?’” – Elliott when asked about his pairing in the 2022 U.S. Senior Open

“I'll never forget this week for sure. It's the highlight of my career. I've played a lot of tournaments. Nothing that is of this grandeur thus far, and I guess that alone is a pretty good thing to look back on.” – Jerry Gunthorpe on a memorable run to the championship match

“I got a new shaft in [my driver] two months ago and with this one, the miss is to the right; used to be to the left. I can be more consistent with this one when I swing it right. When I lean on it, it just flares to the right, and I leaned on it a couple times.” – Gunthorpe on his wayward drives in the final

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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