Matt Hendrix might never have a better 10 days.
Little more than a week after helping Clemson to its first NCAA Division I Men’s Championship, Hendrix captured one of amateur golf’s most revered titles June 8 – the Sunnehanna Amateur at Sunnehanna Country Club.
“It’s just kind of too sweet,” Hendrix said. “It’s just something you don’t imagine. If somebody told me that I was going to win the national championship and then come up and win the Sunnehanna, I’d tell them, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”
However, it was a crazy kind of week at the Sunnehanna, which celebrated its 50th anniversary with wet weather and a visit from golf legend Arnold Palmer.
The course received almost 4 inches of rain during the week, causing the tournament’s traditional three-day format of 18-36-18 holes to be changed to 18-27-27.
“I have played 36-18 but never 27-27,” said Hendrix, who had rounds of 69-66-71-67 for a
7-under 275 total at the par-70, 6,825-yard layout. “I had a lot of good college tournaments this year. (I had) a number of fourth-place finishes and was really in the hunt in a few tournaments, and to finally break through means a lot.”
The first-time Sunnehanna participant held off Justin Smith, who closed with 71 to finish at 5 under. Smith, a member of Minnesota’s 2002 NCAA championship team, led Hendrix by two shots after Round 3, but dropped a shot on the front nine of the final round. He dropped two more at the par-4 12th, where Hendrix chipped in for a birdie-bogey swing that gave him the lead.
“I knew that all I had to do was just get it rolling on the green and just hit it above the pin, and I trickled it down there near the cup and fortunately it went in,” Hendrix said.
Smith made bogey at No. 13 to drop to 5 under, and Hendrix parred in to take the title.
Gregg Jones, Hendrix’s Clemson teammate, finished third at 2-under 278. Danny Green, Nathan Smith and Trip Kuehne tied for fourth at 280.
What really made the 50th event so special, though, was Palmer, who graced Sunnehanna Country Club with his presence on June 7, a day after he missed the cut at the Senior PGA Championship in Newtown Square, Pa.
“It was nice and I am glad he came to watch me a few holes,” said Palmer’s 15-year-old grandson Sam Saunders, who finished 39th.
Not only did ‘The King’ watch his grandson play, but he signed more than 100 autographs for
spectators. At one point, if you didn’t have a Palmer autograph on your Sunnehanna Amateur cap you seemed out of place.
“It was an honor for our tournament and our club to have him here,” said tournament director Jim Hargreave.