2020 was a tumultuous season that saw a wave of tournament cancellations and reschedules in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But it was also a breakout year for Craig Hurlbert
of Magnolia, Texas, who after four wins and ten top-10 finishes is the 2020 AmateurGolf.com Senior Player of the Year.
An improved mental game and better short putting were the keys to Hurlbert's year.
"My putting, and specifically my short putting, really became a strength this year", said Hurlbert to AmateurGolf.com. "In addition, my wife, who played D1 college golf and was a playing pro for several years, helped me to improve my mindset. Her coaching helped me manage my emotions better, and this played a major role in my success this year."
The AmateurGolf.com Senior Player of the Year is awarded based on a point system earned through performance in major senior events throughout the course of the year. This year, Hurlbert did what no player had ever done before -- go wire-to-wire.
Hurlbert, who turned 58 in July, won the first two points events of the year and never relinquished his lead after that. He began his season by playing four events in the Senior Florida Swing, picking up two wins.
Battling cold, rain and wind, won the Old Corkscrew Senior
in a playoff over Ken Kinkopf for his first win in a national senior event.
Five days later, he made it 2-for-2
, coming from two shots back on the final day to win the Gateway Senior by a single shot.
"I am known for my ball-striking, but I had struggled with my putting inside five feet", he said. "So with the downtime [between the 2019 and 2020 seasons], I worked hard on the short putts, and I was rewarded right away with those two wins back to back, making some big putts down the stretch in both events."
Players of the Year
His bid for three in a row fell four shots short with a fifth-place finish at the Kingsway Senior Invitational. The next week he completed the Florida Swing with a sixth-place finish in the Golfweek Player of the Year Classic.
Hurlbert left the golf trail shortly afterward to be with his father as he underwent heart surgery. Then in March, the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold. Senior majors like the U.S. Senior Amateur, the British Senior, the Coleman at Seminole, and a dozen more points events were wiped off the calendar.
Four months passed before senior amateur golf returned to the national stage, at the Society of Seniors (SOS) Jack Hesler Tournament in Virginia in late July (Hurlbert finished 6th).
The week before, Hurlbert won the Montana State Senior Amateur
on the course he grew up on, Yellowstone Country Club in Billings.
"I was 14 years old, chipping on this green. Now I’m 57," Hurlbert said to the Billings Gazette afterward. "I’m home. It’s full circle."
Three weeks after the Hesler, he lifted another trophy, winning five straight matches
to take the Golfweek Senior National Match Play at Talamore in Pinehurst, N.C.
In September, Hurlbert's quest to win two state senior titles in the same year came up two shots short, as he finished third in the Texas Senior. Two more top-ten finishes in the Sunnehanna Senior and the SOS Championship set him up for his final win of the year.
At Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif., Hurlbert dominated, winning by nine shots
on the famed Alister Mackenzie layout, continuing the trend of Hurlbert excelling under difficult conditions as other players let their scores get away from them.
In his final event of 2020, he overcame a rare slow start to rally and finish 8th in the Golfweek Senior Tournament of Champions. Like everyone else, he hopes 2021 will see a return to normal and he relishes the chance to chase a second-straight points title as some of the biggest senior majors return to the calendar.
Final Senior POY Points Standings, 2020
|1 ||Craig Hurlbert||Magnolia, TX||3900|
|2 ||Rusty Strawn||McDonough, GA||3150|
|3 ||Gene Elliott||W. Des Moines,
|4 ||Allen Peake||Macon, GA||2525|
|5 ||Richard Kerper||Oldsmar, FL||2400|
|6 ||Keith Decker||Martinsville, VA||2150|
|7 ||Robert Funk||Canyon Lake, CA||1900|
|7 ||Ken Kinkopf||Jupiter, FL||1900|
|7 ||Bob Royak||Alpharetta, GA||1900|
|10 ||Doug Hanzel||Savannah, GA||1700|
The runner-up in the 2020 Senior Player-of-the-Year points race was Rusty Strawn of McDonough, Georgia. Strawn put himself in contention more than any player in 2020, with seven top-five finishes capped off by his first national senior trophy at the SOS Ralph Bogart Senior.
In third place was the 2018 Senior POY Gene Elliott of W. Des Moines, Iowa. Elliott won two national points events -- the Golfweek Senior TOC and the Golfweek Founders Cup -- and finished runnder-up in the Jones Cup Senior and third in the North & South Senior. Perhaps more impressively, he won both the Iowa Senior and the Iowa Mid-Amateur, each for the fifth time.
For the third straight year, Allen Peake (Macon, Ga.) was fourth in the points standings, with Richard Kerper (Oldsmar, Fla.) fifth.
Doug Hanzel (Savannah, Ga.), a four-time Senior POY including in 2019, finished 10th in the points standings.
AmateurGolf.com Senior Rankings
| Complete 2020 Points List (223 players)