Chip Lutz of Reading, Pa. (USGA photo)
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Chip Lutz, of Reading, Pa., defeated Tom Brandes, of Bellevue, Wash., 5 and 3, on Thursday to win the 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, held at the 6,864-yard, par-71 Hidden Creek Golf Club.
Lutz, 60, who made it to the U.S. Senior Amateur semifinal round in 2010, 2011 and 2013, took home his first United States Golf Association victory and earned custody of the Frederick L. Dold Trophy for one year. The win complements Lutz’s back-to-back wins in both the 2011 and 2012 Canadian Senior Amateur and Seniors Amateur Championships, conducted by The R&A.
“It’s an amazing feeling for me because it's one I have sought for quite a few years,” said Lutz, the No. 8 seed in match play. “I've been really looking at and focusing on this event as not only a comfortable place for me, but a great opportunity for me to try to make the best of things.”
He clinched his spot in the final by defeating 1994 and 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, 1 up, in Wednesday’s semifinal.
“I think my hardest match was yesterday,” said Lutz. “I had a nice lead against Tim Jackson, 3 up, and just started losing a little momentum and leaking some oil coming down the stretch. It was really difficult for me to finish that match. I was just trying to hold on by the skin of my teeth. Getting over that hump was absolutely huge for me, and I could try to then really focus on this championship match.”
With his 89-year-old mother, Janet, watching him play for the first time, Lutz took an immediate lead Thursday with a par on the par-4 first hole, when Brandes drove it left and was forced to take an unplayable lie. Lutz went 2 up with a par on the par-3 fourth hole, but Brandes won the fifth – his only win of the day – with a 12-foot birdie putt.
“I just thought it would be really special to have her [my mom] here because she had never been before,” said an emotional Lutz. “That was special, really good.”
A par on the par-4 sixth restored Lutz’s lead, and the players halved the next four holes with pars as Brandes missed a 7-foot birdie try on No. 9 and lipped out another birdie effort on No. 10 that would have trimmed the advantage.
“The putts on 9 and 10, if one of those would have gone that would have changed the whole thing,” said Brandes, a Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of Fame member and runner-up in the 2013 Seniors Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A. “Those were very, very doable.”
As the rain and wind picked up, the 126-yard, par-3 11th became an elusive target. Both players missed the green, and Brandes bogeyed from behind the hole while Lutz made a 4-footer to get up and down for par and a 3-hole lead.
“On 11, I talked myself into the wrong club [after Lutz had missed the green],” said Brandes, the No. 10 seed in match play. “It went from possibly flipping it into my favor, to me hitting 8-iron over the green and making bogey, flipping it the other way.”
As Brandes played from bunker to bunker on No. 13 for a bogey, Lutz knocked his approach within 10 feet, and Brandes conceded Lutz’s putt for birdie for a 4-up lead. Both players three-putted the par-3 14th, but Lutz closed out the match, 5 and 3, by winning the par-4 15th when Brandes missed the green to the left and failed to get up and down.
“I had to have some confidence in myself,” said Lutz of his struggle to win this championship after three previous semifinal berths. “I had to try to restore my faith in my game and hope that one day I would be faced with the opportunity again and not succumb to either pressure or the challenges faced by that.”
By winning the title, Lutz receives a 10-year exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur, plus exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs and U.S. Mid-Amateurs, and an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Senior Open. He will also be exempt from local qualifying for next year’s U.S. Open.
Brandes receives exemptions into next week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, as well as next year’s U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open, plus a three-year exemption to the U.S. Senior Amateur. Both Brandes and Lutz have opted to forego their exemptions into the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur, which starts Saturday at Johns Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Brandes of his week at Hidden Creek, which included a 21-hole semifinal victory over Steven Liebler on Wednesday. “I’m a career amateur. A lot of other guys tried professional golf at some point. I didn’t play in college, I picked up golf relatively late [mid-30s], so for a career amateur, this is as good as it gets.”
The U.S. Senior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play, after which the 156-player field is reduced to the low 64 scorers for six rounds of match play. The championship, which is open to amateurs who have reached their 55th birthday by Sept. 26, 2015, and have a Handicap Index® not exceeding 7.4, concluded with an 18-hole final on Thursday.