Gene Elliott has never worked so hard to win a golf tournament in his life. The hard work wasn’t done on the practice ground, but undertaken within four walls of a hotel room.
The 59-year-old American finally got his hands on the Senior Amateur Championship after three near misses. The Iowa native won the title at Ganton Golf Club with scores of 74, 76, 70 and 70 for a 6-over-par 290 and a one-shot victory over Ireland’s David Mulholland.
Elliott (above) lost at the first hole of a playoff to countryman Craig Davis at North Berwick two years ago, the last time the tournament was held. He was third in 2018 and equal second on his 2017 debut.
“After coming so close the last three championships, I can’t believe I’ve finally won,” Elliot said. “I’m almost speechless.”
The two-time Canadian Senior Amateur champion (2017 and 2019) was one of only two Americans in the field along with Taylor Walker, who missed the cut. It is the 23rd time the championship has been won by an American, and the 19th time in the last 24 championships. However, COVID-19 protocols deterred many U.S. players from competing in this year’s championship.
Elliott and his wife, Dalena, spent five days cooped up self-isolating in a London hotel upon arriving in the UK because of COVID quarantine restrictions.
“We only left the room to do testing,” Elliott said. “I’ve been in a hotel room for five days and you can only swing a golf club inside a hotel room and practise putting for so long. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked to play in a golf tournament by far, but it’s worth it.”
One shot behind playing companion Andrew Woodhead of England starting the final round, Elliott took the tournament lead with a birdie at the first hole to Woodhead’s double bogey. The Englishman eventually finished joint fourth.
An eagle at the short, par-4 third – when he drove the green and holed from 15 feet – took Elliott into pole position to win the title. He was a model of consistency over the next 10 holes, hitting irons off tees and staying out of Ganton’s cavernous bunkers. Nine pars and a birdie at the par-3 10th over those 10 holes looked to have him set up for a victory march over the last five holes. However, he shanked his tee shot at 14, found one of those deep bunkers at the 15th and then failed to get up and down for par at the 16th. Bogey, bogey, bogey.
“I felt comfortable until I shanked a 5-iron off the 14th tee and made bogey. I bogeyed the next two and the wheels were coming off, actually they were almost bouncing along beside me down the fairway,” Elliott admitted.
A world-class up and down at the tough, 243-yard par-3, 17th hole from the man ranked No. 285 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (the best-ranked player in the field) sealed the victory. Elliott blocked his hybrid, with the ball coming to rest on a mound in scrubby grass.
“This win is up there with the best I’ve ever done,” he said. “I value golf over here, and what the R&A does to put on this event. It means a lot to win this great championship.”
Elliott has a week off before travelling to Sunningdale Golf Club to compete in the Senior Open Championship.
Aileen Greenfield won the Senior Women’s Amateur Championship in a playoff at Ashridge Golf Club over fellow Englishwoman Catherine Rawthore after the pair tied on 10-over-par 229. Greenfield won with a par at the first extra hole.
“This is definitely my biggest win and it completes a nice treble,” said Greenfield, winner of the English Stroke and Match Play Seniors championships.
The victory earns Greenfield an invitation to the US Senior Women’s Amateur Championship in September.
Coming into the fourth round of the 117th Trans-Mississippi Amateur nine strokes behind leader Derek Busby, Pepperdine University senior Derek Hitchner needed to play a great round of golf while receiving more than just a little generosity from Busby in order to have any chance at all.
The improbable happened. Hitchner (above) shot a 4-under 67, the lowest score of Friday’s final round, making five birdies on his inward nine to reach 7-under 277 for the championship. Busby, the noted 37-year-old mid-amateur from Ruston, Louisiana, who started the day at 12-under and six strokes clear of his closest pursuer, imploded with a 5-over 76.
The stunning turnaround resulted in a playoff, which Hitchner won by making a 10-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. Out of nowhere, the 21-year-old from Minneapolis had won half an hour away from his hometown, taking the most significant title of his amateur career at Windsong Farm Golf Club in Independence, Minnesota.
“I’ve played long enough that I knew anything was possible,” Hitchner said. “I had the mindset that I had nothing to lose.”
Through three rounds, Busby had been the story of the tournament. His rounds of 66-65-70 had him lapping the field of mostly college-age competitors. Busby, a former Louisiana Tech golfer, has been receiving help from famous swing instructor Butch Harmon over the last five years, a relationship he credits to his excellent form. He had a call with Harmon halfway through the Trans-Miss to get reassurance, and everything looked promising as Busby’s lead continued to build throughout the tournament. Busby had won the 2020 Gasparilla Invitational, a major mid-am tournament, but this would have been his biggest victory by far. Former Trans-Miss victors include Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris, making it among the more sought-after crowns in the amateur game.
It was not to be. Busby bogeyed four of his first seven holes the final day – he had only made four bogeys in his previous 54 holes – and did well just to make the playoff.
Instead, the day belonged to Hitchner, a player who came into the week ranked No. 198 in the world and did not factor into Pepperdine’s NCAA Championship victory earlier this year. He earned a loud cheer upon making his birdie putt in the playoff, giving him a storybook ending.
“Knowing the history of the tournament, it’s very surreal,” Hitchner said. “I definitely felt the local support here which meant so much to me to have that many people backing me.”
Walt Koelbel of Denver, Colorado, and Pete Krsnich of Wichita, Kansas, teamed to be plus-31 in the Stableford scoring system, winning the Charlie Coe Invitational on Thursday at Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock, Colorado.
It was the first time Koelbel and Krsnich, former teammates at the University of Kansas, had played in the mid-amateur team competition, edging Ted Neville and Andy Latowski by one point. A 16-point performance in the first round was a tournament best among all teams and proved critical to the victory.
In the senior division, Bart Goodwin and Mike Peck of Texas totaled 27 points to go wire-to-wire. They beat John Hull and Dave Honerkamp by four points.
Auburn University junior C.J. Easley shot 12-under 268 to win the 80th playing of the Monroe Invitational on Saturday at Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, New York.
Easley hadn’t registered a top-10 finish since finishing runner-up in the 2020 Palmetto Amateur, but he looked like a different player at the Monroe. After making birdie on the first two holes of his final day, Easley extended the three-shot lead he began the last round with, ultimately winning by five strokes.
The Oxford, Mississippi, native came to the Monroe as a high schooler three years ago and finished 12-over in a tie for 31st, but this time he fired four sub-70 rounds, going 69-66-67-66 for the victory.
Nicolas Cassidy of the University of Georgia claimed solo second at 7-under.
Past winners of the Monroe include Dustin Johnson (2007), Chris DiMarco (1988) and Thomas Pieters (2012).
Englishman John Gough, a former UNC-Charlotte player, shot 9-under 271 to win the Palmetto Amateur by five strokes on Saturday at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, South Carolina.
Gough, who is from Slough, England, just west of London, opened the final day with a two-stroke lead over Jason Quinlan from the University of South Carolina. Quinlan made two quick birdies to tie for the lead, but Gough hit his approach within a few inches on the par-4 fifth to set up a birdie and never looked back during a 3-under 67.
Quinlan secured second place at 4-under 276. Only five players finished the tournament in red figures.
Sean Fairholm and Alistair Tait