Rusty Strawn with the Frederick L. Dold Championship trophy (Kathryn Riley/USGA)
is the U.S. Senior Amateur champion. The all-Georgia final opened with Strawn building a 5-up lead through six holes. Doug Hanzel
, true to his nature, battled back, but the deficit was too big.
In the end, Strawn won the match 3&2.
After winning his semi-final match, Strawn was very honest about his expectations coming into the week. He certainly exceeded them.
"Make match play. I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to sit here and say that I wanted to try to win this tournament," Strawn said. "I just wanted to make match play and that would give me a chance to get where I am right now. That's it."
Now, he's a USGA champion.
"He's a member of the club now," Hanzel said after the match.
The new U.S. Senior Amateur champion has something in common with Ben Carr, the 2022 U.S. Amateur runner-up at Ridgewood. They are both Georgia Southern graduates. Strawn joins four other Georgia Southern Eagles as USGA winners - Gene Sauers (2016 U.S. Senior Open), Jodie Mudd (1980 and ’81 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Stewart “Buddy” Alexander (1986 U.S. Amateur).
It's amazing,” said Strawn, a quarterfinalist in 2021. “I mean, I never thought that I'd have this opportunity [or] if I could actually pull it off. I felt like that I had the game in the right conditions and the right course setup, because I have that determination. But it's just amazing.”
Strawn's run to the final was marked with impressive golf, and the final was no different. He made one birdie and one bogey, forcing Hanzel to play flawless golf. An early lead gave Strawn some breathing room, but even when he made mistakes, he found ways to make par. A 12-foot putt for par on the seventh hole after finding the penalty area was crucial in stemming any comeback hopes for Hanzel.
“The real key was making a par on 7 after I hit it in the hazard off the tee, and I got it up-and-down from about 50 yards for par. That gave me confidence moving forward to the rest of the round that I wasn't going to go crazy, so to speak.
Hanzel did win hole Nos. 10 and 11 to cut the 5-up lead to 3-up; this week he was no stranger to close matches and comebacks. Four of his matches went to 18 holes this week. However, this 18-hole match didn't give Hanzel enough time to chip away.
It's no surprise that Hanzel made the final. In 2012, the former U.S. Senior Amateur champion became the only player to reach matchplay in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid Amateur, and U.S. Senior Amateur in the same year.
“I gave him some simple holes,” said Hanzel, who was competing in his 40th USGA championship this week. “Two, I three-putt from the fringe and I'm only 15, 18 feet. You know, then on the fourth hole, I just had a pitching wedge and I kind of flare it into a bunker and don't get up and down."
Hanzel continued to layout his tough start and praise Strawn's steady performance.
"Five, I hit a really good shot in, hit the green, rolled down in the bunker. I didn't hit really horrible shots, not good shots, and didn't make a 5-or 6-footers that you need to get some momentum, and Rusty is just so steady," Hanzel said. "Doesn't hit it very far, hits it very straight, really good around the greens, and on this golf course you're going to win a lot of holes making pars.”
The Savannah, Ga. native has a phenomenal record in this event.
“Disappointed but … I'm happy for Rusty,” said Hanzel, now 27-9 in matches at the U.S. Senior Amateur. “He's a heck of a guy, heck of a player."
Strawn's win earns him a pairing with Padraig Harrigton and Darren Clarke at next year's U.S. Senior Open, he's also exempt into the next 10 U.S. Senior Amateurs.
He know's this isn't an individual win. His caddie, Scott Hernandes, has earned Kittansett's Iron Man Award four years in a row for the most loops in one season. Many players said the greens this week had subtle breaks and were challenging to putt. A good pair of local eyes can go a long way.
Strawn's wife Jennifer was also with him, carrying a camera to capture some moments at the beautiful venue.
“I've always told her, I've been very fortunate to play in a lot of amateur tournaments, invitationals, national championships, and when I go to these things, I don't like it if I'm not with her," Strawn said. "It just makes the week longer, and the first day I'm there I'd just rather be home. I just ask her to please come with me because it just gives me a sense of being home, and it just makes the experience a lot more fulfilling when she's there.”
They'll have plenty of stories and memories from the week he won the U.S. Senior Amateur championship.