GANTON, ENGLAND | 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 at the fourth time of asking 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 ahead of Ireland’s David Mulholland.
Elliott 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 past 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-19 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.
“I made a great up and down at 17, hitting the best putt I made all week to save par,” he said. “I knew I needed to two-putt from 20 feet at the last to win, which I did but it isn’t always the easiest thing to do under pressure.
“This win is up there with the best I’ve ever done. 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.”
The champion had nothing but praise for his caddie/wife, Dalena.
“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,” Elliott said.
Elliott has a week off before travelling to Sunningdale Golf Club to compete in the Senior Open Championship, a spot he takes by finishing low amateur in 2019. He’ll arrive there as Senior Amateur Champion. Finally.
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.
“Today I was so nervous and started really badly. But my putting was much better than yesterday. I actually never knew what the position was, or how far I was behind. It was a good day. 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.