Hanzel, Strawn Make It An All-Georgia Final at Kittansett Club
A pair of Georgia residents – Rusty Strawn from McDonough and Doug Hanzel of Savannah – will square off in Thursday’s 18-hole final to decide the 67th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship. Strawn, 59, and Hanzel, 65, each won a pair of matches on Wednesday at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass., to set up the first championship match between players from the same state in 19 years.
Strawn defeated 2019 champion Bob Royak, of Alpharetta, Ga., in the semifinals, 6 and 5, after dispatching co-medalist and top seed Miles McConnell, of Tampa, Fla., in the quarterfinals, 5 and 3. Hanzel, the 2013 champion, eliminated left-hander Jeff Frazier, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., 1 up, in the semis and Jon Brown, of Adel, Iowa, 5 and 4, in the quarters.
In 2003, Californians Kemp Richardson and Frank Abbott met at The Virginian Country Club with the former posting a 19-hole win for his second title.
Hanzel also is going for his second championship, and if successful, would tie the late Lewis Oehmig for the longest gap between victories (nine years). Oehmig won his second Senior Amateur in 1976 at age 60 and followed up with his record third crown in 1985 as a 69-year-old.
Strawn, bidding to become the fourth different Georgian to hoist the Frederick L. Dold Trophy, saved some of his best golf of the week for his two matches on Wednesday. He was the equivalent of 2 under par (with concessions) in his win over McConnell, the Florida State Golf Association’s 2021 Senior Player of the Year.
Then against longtime Georgia State Golf Association rival Royak, he was 1 under par over the 13 holes, clinching the match with a 20-foot birdie on the 385-yard 13th hole. In fact, after Royak won his only hole of the match to close the deficit to two holes on No. 7, Strawn, the 2022 Trans-Mississippi Senior Amateur champion, won four of the next six holes.
“I've always said that match play, you can play good and get beat or you can play bad and win,” said Strawn, a quarterfinalist in 2021 who is competing in his third U.S. Senior Amateur. “Every match I've played so far, I've played really well and won, but I've played some really good players so far, too, so I can't take anything away from any of them. You've just got to stay focused each and every shot throughout the whole tournament.”
Hanzel, competing in his 40th USGA championship and 10th U.S. Senior Amateur, raised his Senior Am match-play record to 27-8, but it wasn’t easy. He twice owned 3-up leads against Frazier, only to see the 2022 Pennsylvania Senior Match Play champion whittle away at his advantage. A winning par on 12 and a bogey that was good enough to take No. 17 cut Frazier’s deficit to just one hole going into the par-5 18th.
Hanzel, the only player to make match play in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur in the same year (2012), managed to drain a 5-foot birdie putt to seal his spot in the final.
“I just hit a wonderful pitch shot to about 5 feet,” said Hanzel of his approach into 18, “and he knocked it up there very close. I'm standing over [my putt], and I said, ‘It's time to turn out the lights, and I hit it right in just like when I was playing [2017 champion] Sean Knapp [in the Round of 16]. I had a 5-footer to end the match right in the center.”
Against Brown earlier on Wednesday, Hanzel didn’t lose a hole in playing the equivalent of 2-under-par golf over 14 holes. Brown won a 25-hole marathon on Tuesday evening to reach the quarters.
The start of the morning quarterfinal matches was delayed 66 minutes due to thunderstorms.
Once play began, Royak defeated Roger Newsom, of Virginia Beach, Va., 2 and 1, in a rematch of their 2019 final at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C. This time, the match was decided on the 17th hole. Royak seized control over the final five holes, thanks to birdies on 13 and 15 to take a 1-up lead and a winning par on 17. He beat Newsom, 1 up, in 2019.
Frazier denied the bid of Stephen Jensen, of England, to become the championship’s first international winner, 1 up.
Thursday’s 18-hole championship match is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. EDT. Spectators are welcome to attend, and admission is free.
“Well, that's just been a life dream of mine. Unfortunately, I have not qualified for the U.S. Senior Open in the past. I've tried. I've come up a shot or two short a lot of times. I just played in the Senior British Open this year, and I was like, these guys get treated really good. So I'll enjoy that.” – Rusty Strawn on earning an exemption to the 2023 U.S. Senior Open at SentryWorld
“The wind was a little calmer than yesterday.. It goes from south-southwest, which I think is their traditional wind. It started out from the north, and then it changed from morning to afternoon, and that's something that you have to be aware of. Of course the USGA does a great job at keeping you on your toes, because you expect to go out there and hit from one tee, the next thing you know they've got it 30 yards back or 40 yards forward. It just keeps you thinking all the time.” – Strawn
“It's interesting because the 2022 Doug Hanzel would give the 2013 Doug Hanzel a really good match. I think I'm a better player now. I may not hit it quite as far, but I think I can score a little better. I definitely drive the ball better, and driving is everything in this game. I haven't lost a lot of distance, but I'm driving it more consistently.” – Doug Hanzel
“Rusty is just an incredible competitor. You don't get impressed watching him, but he just works around the golf course, a really good short game. He's going to make some putts. When you add it up, it's usually a pretty low number. I think he's taken his game to a different level in the last two, three years, so I'm expecting a very good match. I'm expecting to have to play a very good match to be in the game.” – Hanzel on facing fellow Georgian Strawn
“My game was in a good place. I really thought I could have won this week once I got by that match this morning. I was surprised I played so poorly this afternoon. But that's golf.” – Bob Royak
“I'm sure I'll feel a lot better tomorrow. But you know, [Doug Hanzel] played great. He won. I don't need to leave here feeling like I lost; know what I mean? For that, I'm glad.” – Jeff Frazier
“It's always tough to get close and feel like you could have done more. It kind of makes me think back to the 87 U.S. Am when I lost in the round of eight in a playoff [to eventual winner Billy Mayfair]. You always think you'll have another opportunity, and I didn't in that, so hopefully I will in this. You just never know in this game. Keep plugging away and good things can happen.” – co-medalist and top seed Miles McConnell after his run ended in the quarterfinals
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. Joey Geske, the USGA’s assistant manager for championship communications, contributed to this article from The Kittansett Club.