What makes competitive amateur golf great?
We love it for the camaraderie and friendship. We love it for sportsmanship, rooting for our own pursuits rather than rooting against anyone else’s. And, maybe more than anything, we love it for the internal test.
It’s a golfer against him or herself; against a mostly stationary land that must be conquered through the power of process; against the unrelenting time constraints from life’s other priorities such as family, friends, work, faith and travel.
Rusty Strawn, a 59-year-old from McDonough, Georgia, is the pure expression of properly balancing these elements in a healthy, rewarding way. A lifelong amateur who essentially left the game from his early 30s to his mid-40s in order to focus on raising three daughters while running the family insurance company, Strawn rededicated himself to golf as a senior amateur, becoming one of the most admired gentlemen in the sport.
He still works – he’s in his 38th year as CEO of Strawn & Co. Insurance – and nonetheless has managed to improve his game consistently, finally reaching a crescendo in 2022 when he won the U.S. Senior Amateur, Canadian Senior Amateur, Trans-Miss Senior Championship, Florida Senior Azalea Amateur and Society of Seniors Dale Morey Championship and finishing in the top five of eight other events. “Reaching a pinnacle” is how he rightly describes his stellar campaign.
For his outstanding accomplishments, Strawn is the Global Golf Post Men’s Amateur of the Year. It goes beyond his play on the course, however. It’s about the integrity of the man.
“Golf is such a gentleman's game, and how you conduct yourself whether you win or lose, it reflects on what kind of person you are,” Strawn told Global Golf Post recently. “And, you know, I try to be the same whether I win a tournament or whether I lose a tournament. Of course, I never like losing. I'm like everybody else playing this game to win. But I just think how my conduct on the course and away from the course is, that is so much more than just my results. The game means so much to me, and I respect the game so much.”
He comes by it honestly. Strawn is a lifelong Georgian, having started to play the game with his father, Norman, as a young boy when he was gifted a five-piece set of Chi Chi Rodriguez clubs. Although he showed early talent and was once the Atlanta Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, his aspirations to play golf at the University of Georgia were beyond reach. He ended up at Alexander City Junior College (now Central Alabama Community College), where, serendipitously, his teammates were future seven-time PGA Tour winner John Huston and three-time tour victor Gene Sauers.
“I went from the fireplace to the furnace,” Strawn said jokingly.
That set the framework for much of how golf would fit into his life. Seeing his talented teammates, Strawn knew that professional golf was a club he didn’t have in the bag. He didn’t try to force it. Instead, he transferred to Georgia Southern and became the captain of the golf team while focusing most of his efforts on schoolwork.
“Professional golf was not something that really entered my mind,” Strawn said. “And being a lifelong amateur, I've been proud of that. I've been proud that I never turned pro and I never experienced trying to play golf professionally or make a living at it. But I reached a fairly high level of success playing amateur golf all my life.”
“We all go out there and we hit balls and we putt and chip. We just hope it works under pressure. And then when you find something that really works under the most extreme pressure, when that works, that's the satisfaction that I get.”
After college, Strawn never wavered in what he wanted to accomplish. He and his wife, Jennifer, started a family. In addition to his work, he became heavily involved in his local community. Mid-amateur golf held a prominent place for a short time, but, as Strawn puts it, “life happened.”
“Very conscientiously, golf went on the back burner,” Strawn said. “I didn't quit playing, but I played very little for probably the next 12 to 14 years. … We were going to do our best to have a healthy marriage, to raise our daughters and have a good home. And, you know, golf could come later on, if that's a possibility.”
Late in his 40s, it was time for golf to come back. He worked hard with his instructor, hired a mental coach and began sessions with a personal trainer. Strawn started playing in some Georgia PGA events for players 50 and older, helping the transition into the senior amateur ranks at age 55. It took some time for him to get used to that level of competition again.
His driver was a liability that put too much pressure on his gifted iron play and short game, so it took time to figure out how to get off the tee more efficiently by switching to a right-to-left ball flight that went against what he had done throughout most of his career.
“I knew that because I had been away from it for so long, it was going to take a few years to get back in that competitive grind,” Strawn said.
Just as Strawn was starting to hit his stride on the course as a senior amateur, his mom, Kaye, died from cancer in February 2019. Strawn called her “his biggest fan,” and he took several months away from golf to go through the grieving process. When he caught his stride again, the pandemic halted his momentum. Some of the most important years of senior golf – the couple of years immediately after eligibility – had gone by quicker than he hoped.
But those who know Strawn understand how his priorities being in the right place are a foundational piece to the golfer he is, which is an aspirational model for competitive amateurs everywhere. He pushed forward full steam once again, winning four times in 2021 and reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur.
It set the stage for his 2022 season, one of the best performances we have seen in the senior amateur game. Strawn trampled three other GGP first-team All-Am members on his way to winning the U.S. Senior Amateur, beat Mike McCoy by one stroke to take home the Trans-Miss Senior and cruised to victory in the Canadian Senior.
“A lot of it has to do with the prior two years before that,” Strawn said of his phenomenal season. “A lot of preparation, a lot of being very focused and disciplined and just having a lot of good habits.”
When asked what still motivates him, Strawn gave the answer you could see coming. This was never about just winning tournaments. All great amateur golfers know that. There is something deeper that has driven him to this point, and it will continue to drive him.
“I love that sense of uneasiness and unsettledness that you get when you're playing,” Strawn said. “I think at the end of the day for me, it's knowing that what I'm working on on the practice range and the putting green works under pressure.
“That to me is the cool thing. We all go out there and we hit balls and we putt and chip. We just hope it works under pressure. And then when you find something that really works under the most extreme pressure, when that works, that's the satisfaction that I get.”
Top: Rusty Strawn adds the 2022 U.S. Senior Amateur title to an outstanding season of amateur success.