Gene Elliott finally got his USGA championship (USGA photo)
In a year that showed just how far he would go to satisfy his competitive drive, Gene Elliott
of W. Des Moines, Iowa is the 2021 AmateurGolf.com Senior Player of the Year. This is Elliott's second Player-of-the-Year honor, having won it for the first time in 2018
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, Elliott returned to full competition with a vengeance, contending in nearly every senior event in which he teed it up, and picking up the most important trophies in senior amateur golf.
In a 2020 season abbreviated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Elliott played in four national senior events, winning two. This year, he played in 14, winning five and finishing second four times. Remarkably, he never finished outside the top five in any senior amateur event he played in 2021.
Elliott, who turned 59 in February, started the season with a strong runner-up finish in the Jones Cup Senior at Sea Island, finishing just one shot behind four-time champion Doug Hanzel
(Savannah, Ga.). Hanzel would later clip Elliott again by a shot at the Timuquana Senior in Jacksonville, Fla.
He would pick up his first win of the year in the Golfweek Senior Amateur at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., running his top-3 streak to nine events and winning by two shots. It was the first of what would be three Golfweek senior victories on the year.
Two weeks later he teed it up with the young guys, finishing a respectable 16th in the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla.
Then, he returned to his native Iowa to compete with a slightly older group (but still one age group down), winning his sixth
Iowa Mid-Amateur at the age of 59.
He followed that showing with a runner-up at the Timuquana Senior and a 4th place finish at the Trans-Mississippi Senior in Fairfax, Calif.
Players of the Year
The summer began with Elliott losing in the C.B. Invitational quarterfinals in New York, and a runner-up finish to his good friend Mike McCoy
at the George C. Thomas Senior in Los Angeles. At this point in the season, he had played steady golf but had only a single national senior win to show for it. Further, he did not qualify for the U.S. Senior Open.
It was then that Elliott showed just how far he was willing to go to satisfy his drive to compete and win championships, with an effort he later described as "the hardest I’ve ever worked to play in a golf tournament by far". With Great Britain under a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections, travel restrictions were put in place for all people traveling in.
But this did not deter Elliott and his wife Dalena, who traveled to England anyway and had to quarantine in a hotel room for five days upon arrival, only leaving the room to test for COVID. With Dalena caddying for him at Ganton Golf Club, Elliott was able to grind out a one-shot win, his first R&A championship
"She was already wife of the year for doing the quarantining with me to let me play here and, as well as she caddied, I owe her big time... This win is up there with the best I’ve ever done."
Related: 45 years in, Gene Elliott has found his 'sweet spot'
Elliott would stay in the U.K. and make the cut at the British Senior Open at Sunningdale in England.
Back in the U.S., Elliott would make the quarterfinals in the Golfweek Senior Match Play in Pinehurst, N.C. Though he lost his quarterfinal match 1 up to Sherrill Britt
, it would be the last match he would lose for a while.
It was two weeks later that Elliott would finally capture the prize
that he had been chasing in a lifetime playing competitive golf. He had done about everything there is to do in the amateur game except win a USGA championship, but he was able to break through at the Country Club of Detroit (Mich.), grinding out wins in six straight matches including a final against Jerry Gunthorpe in which Elliott never had the lead until the final putt on the final hole.
"'Just so much goes with that USGA title that maybe that's why I haven't won it in the past," reflected Elliott afterward. "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 had the two biggest trophies in senior amateur golf and became one of three golfers ever to win the U.S., British and Canadian Senior Amateurs.
His momentum carried over into the fall, where won two more titles at the Golfweek Senior Desert Showdown and the Golfweek Senior Tournament of Champions, and added a runner-up in the Golfweek Challenge Cup and a semifinal finish in the Crump Cup Senior at Pine Valley.
As 2021 ends, Elliott seems to have checked all of the boxes in a life spent playing competitive golf. But as we learned in our interviews with him, there is a singular focus and drive in him that will no doubt keep him plowing forward to chase more moments like he had this year. It's who he is.
Final Senior POY Points Standings, 2021
For the second straight year, the runner-up in the Senior Player-of-the-Year points race was Rusty Strawn
of McDonough, Georgia. In any other year he might have won the race, winning six times and topping
the Society of Seniors (SOS) Player-of-the-Year points list. Elliott and Strawn were clearly the top two seniors in 2021, separating themselves in the senior rankings from all other players.
At the age of 64, Hanzel had four wins (the Jones Cup Senior, Timuquana Senior, the Jack Hesler and the Florida Azalea Senior) to finish third in the points standings. William Mitchell
of Atlanta was fourth and Randy Haag
of Orinda, Calif. rounded out the top five.
In all, five of the top ten points earners in 2021 were from the state of Georgia.
Complete 2021 Points List (549 players)
| AmateurGolf.com Senior Rankings (two-year aggregate)