His at last: Gene Elliott wins U.S. Senior Amateur title
02 Sep 2021
by Jim Young of

see also: View results for U.S. Senior Amateur, The Honors Course, Gene Elliott Rankings

Courtesy of the USGA
Courtesy of the USGA

Gene Elliott's trophy case just got a little more crowded and a lot more shinier.

Elliott, who won the British Senior Amateur in July to go along with his two Canadian Senior Amateurs and a long list of other major titles, won his first USGA championship Thursday morning when he clipped Jerry Gunthrope to win the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit.

The 59-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa never led in the match until he converted an 8-foot par putt on the 18th green for a 1-up win over Gunthorpe, who saw the title slip from his grasp after making bogeys on the last two holes.

The two first-time finalists were never separated by more than one hole and Gunthorpe seemingly moved into the driver's seat when he took a 1-up lead on the par-3 16th hole when Elliott missed a 2½-foot par putt.

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's par putt to send the match to extra holes missed its mark, the two golfers removed their hats and shook hands -- and probably their heads a bit, too.

“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.”

With the win, Elliott 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.

“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.”

Elliott's road to the championship was anything but easy. He defeated his good friend and 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 next defeated Doug Hanzel, ranked second to Elliott in the Senior Ranking, followed by Oakland Hills member and local favorite Tom Gieselman in the quarters. He had a bit of a breather in the semifinals, defeating Craig Davis, who edged him in a playoff for the 2017 British Senior Amateur title, 5 and 4.

“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.”

For his runner-up finish, Gunthorpe received 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.).

“I'll never forget this week for sure," said Gunthorpe. "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.”

The USGA contributed to this report

Related coverage of the 2021 U.S. Senior Amateur:

Results: U.S. Senior Amateur
WinIAGene ElliottW. Des Moines, IA2000
Runner-upMIJerry GunthorpeOvid, MI1500
SemifinalsCanadaDave BunkerCanada1000
SemifinalsCACraig DavisChula Vista, CA1000
QuarterfinalsGARusty StrawnMcDonough, GA700

View full results for U.S. Senior Amateur

ABOUT THE U.S. Senior Amateur

The USGA Senior Amateur is open to those with a USGA Handicap Index of 7.4 or lower, who are 55 or older on or before the day the championship begins. It is one of 14 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

View Complete Tournament Information

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