Year-in-review: Top 10 senior amateur storylines

Paul Simson (file photo)

It comes as little surprise that the bulk of the top storylines in 2012 were produced by the top four players in the Golfweek/Wilson Senior Amateur Rankings. Time and again, this quartet made their way to the winner’s circle within the senior amateur circuit, not to mention making a bit of noise against their younger counterparts in both amateur and professional competitions.

Chip Lutz, 57, of Reading, Pa., was in the news not only for what he did, but what he didn’t do. For the second consecutive year, Lutz captured both the British Senior Amateur and Canadian Senior Amateur titles only to come up short in his bid to complete senior amateur golf’s triple crown at the U.S. Senior Amateur. A semifinalist at the 2011 U.S. Senior Am, Lutz lost in the first round this year as Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale, Calif., scored a 1-up victory.

Still it was quite a year for Lutz, who also posted victories at the Ralph Bogart Senior, War Memorial, Hyndman Memorial, Thomas Senior, Pennsylvania Senior Match Play and Florida Azalea Senior to go with second-place finishes at the Crane Cup Senior and Coleman Senior. He was low amateur (T-35) at the British Senior Open.

Paul Simson, 61, of Raleigh, N.C., highlighted his year by winning his second U.S. Senior Amateur title to go along with his victories at the Senior Hall of Fame, North Carolina Senior Amateur and Crane Cup Senior. He also had top-5 showings at the North Carolina Mid-Am, North & South Senior, British Senior Amateur (T-2), Lupton Senior and Coleman Senior.

Brady Exber, 56, of Las Vegas, won the Coleman Senior, the Senior Azalea Amateur and most recently the Dixie Senior Amateur while notching top-5 finishes at the Lupton Senior, Thomas Senior, and British Senior Amateur, while placing 10th at the Arizona Senior Open.

Doug Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, Ga., captured the Jones Cup Senior and Lupton Senior, but made his biggest splashes by finishing as low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open and qualifying for match play at the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur.

Four players with a host of impressive performances. Still, there were other notable moments along the senior amateur scene.

Here’s my top-10 storylines in senior amateur competition for 2012:

• • •

10. Philip Pleats, 56, of Nashau, N.H., was the oldest player in the starting field of 312 at this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver. He didn’t make the 64-player match-play field. Neither did his son, James, 22, and a senior at Dartmouth.

It didn’t matter. Theirs was still one of the heart-warming stories of the championship. Father and son, together, competing at the highest level of amateur golf. In this case it was all about family.

And, it became a part of U.S. Amateur history, marking only the fourth time a father-son duo has competed in the same amateur.

The first time was in 1958 when Dick Chapman, the 1940 U.S. Amateur champion, and Dixie Chapman, 16, competed when the championship was strictly match play (no on-site qualifying). In 1988, Brett Quigley and his son Paul competed and in 2001, Michael Derminio and his father David, were among the starting field.

For the Pleats, especially Philip, playing at Cherry Hills made the occasion even more special.

It was here were Philip played in his first of six U.S. Amateurs as a 34-year old in 1990, the one which saw Phil Mickelson win the title.

“When I was here for my first U.S. Amateur my wife was unable to attend because she was expecting our second child within two weeks and the doctor didn’t want her to travel,” Philip during U.S. Am week. “While I didn’t make match play, I did make it home before the birth of my son, James. And now the two of us are here, how special is that?”

• • •

9. Based on his wide range of successes and what he has meant over the years in amateur golf, Paul Simson has been honored with induction into a number of halls of fame. None, however, may have been more meaningful and provided more satisfaction than the one he entered this past summer.

It took place during the Southern Amateur at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark., when he was inducted into the Southern Golf Association’s Hall of Fame.

“This is really the apex for me in my (amateur) career,” Simson said during his acceptance speech. “What a wonderful honor. It’s very, very special.”

What made it such an honor, so special, is the exclusiveness of this Hall of Fame.

It was established by the SGA in 1972, and its first inductee was Robert T. Jones Jr., who was inducted posthumously at the 1972 Southern Am at Green Island Country Club in Columbus, Ga.

It is unique in that it does not necessarily induct a member each year, nor does it select multiple inductees in any one year. In the hall's 41st year, Simson became only the 23rd member and the first since Hubert Green in 2006.

A special honor for sure for a very special amateur golfer and individual.

• • •

8. Casey Boyns, 56, of Monterey, Calif., showed he still has plenty of game to compete with the younger set -- at least the younger among those 25 years and older.

The long-time caddy at Pebble Beach Golf Links not only qualified for the 64-player match-play field at this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, but went on to advance to the quarterfinals -- and it wasn’t an easy road.

At Conway Farms Golf Club just outside Chicago, Boyns won his opening-round match against fellow Californian Tim Hogarth in 23 holes. He then went 20 holes before defeating Brian Tennyson and followed by going the full 18 holes in a 1-up victory over Michael Muehr.

In the quarterfinal round he finally bowed out as Todd White, one of two mid-amateurs selected to the current U.S. Walker Cup practice squad, scored a 2-and-1 victory.

• • •

7. Speaking of one of the “old” guys hanging in there with the young bucks - Brady Exber did plenty of that during the course of the year.

In addition to his success competing against his fellow seniors, Exber finished third at the Southern Nevada Amateur, tied for second at the Carlton Woods Invitational, finished second and the Stocker Cup and was runner-up at the Nevada State Amateur.

It certainly proves that this “old” horse is far from ready to be put out to the pasture.

• • •

6. Doug Hanzel’s run at this year’s U.S. Amateur definitely was an attention getter. He shot rounds of 73-68 for an even-par 141 and tied for 25th in the stroke-play portion of the championship.

At age 55, not only was he the oldest player to qualify for the 64-player match-play field, but according to USGA records, he is believed to be the oldest player to advance to match play since the U.S. Amateur went to its current format of 36-hole, on-site, stroke-play qualifying in 1979.

The 1979 Kent State graduate took it a step further and advanced to the round of 32 when he defeated Andrew Biggadike, 34, of Ridgewood, N.J., 3 and 2.

His dream run ended the next day when he lost to Steven Fox, who would go one to win this year’s U.S. Amateur title. Still, Hanzel gave Fox all he could handle before bowing out on the 18th hole, 1-up.

• • •

5. Ellen Port, 50, of St. Louis, Mo., won five consecutive holes on the final nine and defeated Jan Fitzgerald, 50, of Kensington, Md., 4 and 3, in September to win the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur at the Hershey (Pa.) Country Club West course.

Port was 1-down at the turn before seizing control of the match and join some elite company among USGA women amateur players.

She became only the second player to have won both the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in a career. Carol Semple Thompson was the first. Port also joins a group of 10 players who have garnered at least five USGA women’s championships.

“It’s an honor to be another USGA champion,” said Port, who claimed her fourth Women’s Mid-Amateur in September 2011. “I have a medal and a flag in the same (calendar) year that I won the Mid-Am. I am so shocked and ecstatic.”

• • •

4. Chip Lutz successfully defended his Canadian Senior Amateur title and did so with a most impressive run down the final stretch.

At the start of the last round, Lutz was two strokes behind Ian Harris. But his closing 4-under 68 that included birdies on four of his final five holes, enabled him to finish at 1-under 287, five shots clear of Harris.

• • •

3. Doug Hanzel, the lung specialist doctor from Savannah, Ga., garnered low-amateur honors in the 33rd U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich.

With a closing round 5-over 75 to go with his previous rounds of 71-72-71, Hanzel finished T-53 at 9-over 289.

That was three strokes better than Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa., who closed with a 74 for 292. Hanzel and Knapp were the only two amateur to make the cut out of the 35 who were in the starting field.

“I played last year, and I missed the cut by two. And I know low amateur gets an invitation back,” said Hanzel, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who warmed up for Indianwood by stopping at his alma mater, Kent State, for practice.

“I'm pretty much an office practice now,” said Hanzel, a former Ohio high school state champion. “I have a great group of guys that help cover for me. My schedule is a little freer. I'm to the point where I need to slow down. My kids are kind of out of the house, and I can slow down a little bit.”

He may slow down some from his daily work schedule in 2013, but his success at the U.S. Senior Open and other top events during the year will certainly send him to the tee box a lot more.

• • •

2. Chip Lutz joined some pretty select company when he became only the third man to post back-to-back victories as he successfully defended his British Senior Amateur Championship title at Machynys Peninula Golf Club in Wales.

He joined legendary Scotsman Charlie Green and Ron White as the only players to win consecutive championships.

Chip Lutz joined select company when he successfully defended the British Seniors Amateur Championship at Machynys Peninsula in Wales. He became only the third man to record back-to back victories. Lutz finished runner-up two years ago, won at Royal Portrush last year and then saved his best for last in Wales.

Lutz, who was low amateur in this year’s British Senior Open Championship at Turnberry, entered the final round a stroke behind three-time winner Paul Simson after scores of 73 and 70. However, Lutz closed with a 4-under-par 68 for a 211 total, 5-under-par, to win by four over fellow Americans Simson, Douglas Pool and Steve Rogers.

“It feels unreal to have won again,” Lutz said afterwards. “It is a significant achievement as it has not been done for about 20 years, and then by Charlie Green who I believe was something special. He won six times in seven years and I certainly have some way to go to catch him up.

“I felt good coming in to the tournament but the standard is so high these days that winning events like this is a tall order and I am just thrilled to have done it.”

Americans occupied the first five places, with Scotland’s Ian Brotherston finishing T-6 at 1-over 217 to break up the American monopoly.

Pool earned the silver medal as runner-up by virtue of his last-round score. He scored 71, while Rogers posted 72 and Simson a 73.

• • •

1. Paul Simson captured his second U.S. Senior Amateur title, winning three of four holes on the back nine to defeat Curtis Skinner of Lake Bluff, Ill. 4 and 3, at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. N.J.

Simson, the 61-year-old insurance executive from Raleigh, N.C., became the 14th player to win at least two U.S. Senior Amateur Championships. He won his first in 2010, the year he became the only player to complete senior amateur golf’s triple crown following his victories at the British Senior Amateur and Canadian Senior Amateur.

“It's an indescribable feeling to win the first one, and to win the second one, I would call it more of a thrill than an honor,” said Simson afterwards, capping a happy homecoming this week to his native northern New Jersey. “I was just so overcome the first time. But to win the second one was a real thrill.”

In the national championship for players 55 and older, Simson was most impressive. During his quarterfinal and semifinal matches he shot a combined 10 under. In the final match, he was 2-up after 11 holes he nearly drove the green at the 279-yard, par-4 12th and then sank a 27-foot putt for birdie.

Simson was competing in his 55th USGA championship and the victory carried special meaning.

“We did a lot of special things this week,” said Simson, whose 30-year-old son, Phillip, caddied for him. “We went and saw the family cemetery plot, saw the club [Fairmount Country Club, where he played as a youngster]. We went by all the old houses where I grew up and where I met my wife (Chris). I got to see some old friends that I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Pretty cool stuff.”

And topped off with the happiest ending of all.

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