GANTON, England – Gene Elliott proved yet again that you should never give up in this great game of golf. The likeable American finally won the Senior Amateur Championship after three near misses.
The Iowa native won the title at glorious Ganton Golf Club, a course that gave the over 55s a true test over the four rounds.
Elliott returned a closing 70 to go with earlier scores of 74, 76 and 70 for a 6-over-par 290 to win by one-shot over Ireland’s David Mulholland, who closed the last 36 holes with scores of 68 and 70. England's Trevor Foster, the 2018 champion, finished third on 10 over.
The 59-year-old lost a playoff to countryman Craig Davis at North Berwick in 2019, the last time the championship was played. He was third in 2018, and joint second in 2017 on his debut.
“After coming so close the last three championships, I can’t believe I’ve finally won. I’m almost speechless.”
The 59-year-old began the final round one shot behind England’s Andrew Woodhead, with whom he was playing. He soon took charge when he birdied the first hole while the Englishman, who placed joint fourth, made double bogey. An eagle at the par-4 third hole took Elliott to three under for the round and in charge of the tournament on 3-over.
The 285th player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, the best ranked player in the field, looked in complete control through the next 10 holes. He made nine pars and a birdie at the par-3, 10th hole. That’s when gritty Ganton Golf Club began to bite back.
Elliott dropped three straight shots at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes. He looked like dropping another when he missed the par-17th green to the right with a hybrid, but made a great up and down to take a one-shot lead down the last. He made a closing par to seal the win, but had to wait 20 minutes over his second shot to 18 when a spectator fainted and fell in a greenside bunker. Thankfully the man was okay.
“I rode the wave of emotions today,” Elliott said. “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. But I made a great up and down at 17, hitting the best putt I made all week to save par. 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.”
The two-time Canadian Senior Amateur champion (2017 and 2019) was just one of two Americans to make the trip to Ganton Golf Club for this year’s championship along with Walker Taylor, who missed the cut. Covid-19 protocols meant Elliott had to self–isolate upon arrival in the UK. He and wife Dalena spent five days in a London hotel, only being allowed out to get tested. It didn’t help his preparation for the tough test Ganton presented the over 55s, but it made getting his hands on the trophy all the sweeter.
“This is the hardest I’ve had to work to play in a tournament let alone do well, and it wasn’t work practising. I spent five days in isolation before this championship only leaving the hotel to get tested. Now I need another couple of days rest, not quarantining, to let this sink in.
“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.”
Dalena caddied for her husband all week and, unsurprisingly, the champion had nothing but praise for his caddie.
“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.”
It is the 23rd time the championship has been won by an American, and the 19th time in the last 24 championships.
Elliott has a week off before travelling to Sunningdale Golf Club to compete in the Senior Open Championship. He’ll arrive there as Senior Amateur Champion. Finally.
#JustSaying: “Those last four holes are tough. It’s a case of make your score and hang on to it over the last four holes.” Yorkshire’s Andrew Woodhead, who finished fourth, on Ganton’s closing stretch
Note: Most of this story appears on the R&A website and is used with kind permission. (I should hope so: I penned the R&A story.) For all scores go to: https://bit.ly/3yzYauu
Photos by Jan Kruger of Getty Images courtesy of the R&A