Rusty Strawn became the fourth player from Georgia to win the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship with his 3-and-2 victory over fellow Peach State resident and past champion Doug Hanzel in Thursday’s 18-hole championship match at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass.
Strawn, 59, of McDonough, joins Hanzel (2013), Bill Ploeger (1999) and Bob Royak (2019), who he defeated in the semifinals, on the Frederick L. Dold Trophy. Hanzel, 65, of Savannah, was bidding to become the 15th multiple winner of the championship and match the late Lewis Oehmig for the longest gap between titles (nine years).
Meanwhile, Strawn becomes the fourth Georgia Southern alum to win a USGA championship, joining his former college teammate Gene Sauers (2016 U.S. Senior Open), Jodie Mudd (1980 and ’81 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Stewart “Buddy” Alexander (1986 U.S. Amateur). Eleven days ago, Georgia Southern fifth-year senior Ben Carr lost in the U.S. Amateur final at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
“It's amazing,” said Strawn, a quarterfinalist in 2021. “I mean, I never thought that I'd have this opportunity [or] if I could actually pull it off. I felt like that I had the game in the right conditions and the right course setup, because I have that determination. But it's just amazing.”
For the first time in 19 years, a U.S. Senior Amateur final pitted players from the same state. Californians Kemp Richardson and Frank Abbott squared off in 2003 at The Virginian in Bristol, Va., with the former prevailing in 19 holes.
On an idyllic late-summer day along the shores of Buzzards Bay, Strawn played near-flawless golf over the 16-hole encounter; his lone hiccup coming on the par-3 11th hole. The 2022 Trans-Mississippi Senior champion and 2022 North & South Senior runner-up played even-par golf, with the usual match-play concessions, making one birdie and one bogey. He jumped on Hanzel from the outset, winning five of the first six holes, including a 4-foot birdie on No. 6 after a brilliant 163-yard, 8-iron approach from the rough.
He maintained that lead through the front nine, thanks to a 12-foot par save on No. 7 after finding the penalty area off the tee, and an up-and-down par from a greenside bunker on the par-3 eighth hole.
“I got off to a good start,” said Strawn, who wore his polo from the 2019 Senior Amateur at Old Chatham Golf Club (missed cut) and a hat from Sea Island where he registered his “first big win” in the 1993 Georgia Mid-Amateur. “I just wanted to make pars. I wanted to hit fairways, I wanted to hit greens … and then of course that birdie at 6 … kind of settled me down a little bit.
“The real key was making a par on 7 after I hit it in the hazard off the tee, and I got it up-and-down from about 50 yards for par. That gave me confidence moving forward to the rest of the round that I wasn't going to go crazy, so to speak.”
Hanzel, the only person in USGA history to make match play in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur in the same year (2012), couldn’t produce the Houdini magic he did in his first three matches of the championship when he rallied for victories. In his Round-of-64 match against Rupert Kellock, he came back from a 4-down deficit through 10 holes to post a 1-up triumph.
“Yeah, I gave him some simple holes,” said Hanzel, who was competing in his 40th USGA championship this week. “Two, I three-putt from the fringe and I'm only 15, 18 feet. You know, then on the fourth hole, I just had a pitching wedge and I kind of flare it into a bunker and don't get up and down. Five, I hit a really good shot in, hit the green, rolled down in the bunker. I didn't hit really horrible shots, not good shots, and didn't make a 5- or 6-footer that you need to get some momentum, and Rusty is just so steady. Doesn't hit it very far, hits it very straight, really good around the greens, and on this golf course you're going to win a lot of holes making pars.”
Still, Hanzel showed why he is one of the top senior golfers in the world, winning Nos. 11 and 12, the latter with a 14-foot birdie, and then adding a conceded birdie to win the par-5 15th after a great third shot to stay in the match. But by that point, he was 3 down – Strawn took the par-3 14th by converting a 4-foot par putt after Hanzel flew the green with his tee shot – and the deficit was too much to overcome.
“Disappointed but … I'm happy for Rusty,” said Hanzel, now 27-9 in matches at the U.S. Senior Amateur. “He's a heck of a guy, heck of a player. He's a member of the club now.”
“I told my wife (Jennifer), I'm in the next [10 U.S. Senior Amateurs]. It is so hard to qualify for one of these things. I've only had to try to qualify once, and because of my WAGR rating (currently No. 575) I've been exempt, but I have so many buddies that try so hard. You go to a spot, there's 25 players for one spot, and it's so hard to do. That's why this is such a coveted trophy. It's awesome.” – Rusty Strawn
“Even though he won 11 and 12, it didn't faze me. Now, it would have fazed me if I wasn't hitting the ball well and I was losing it, but I was like, I'm not losing this, he's doing the right things to get back into the match. But no, I never lost my confidence, which was a good thing for me, because sometimes I'll go through a round and lose my confidence and really struggle. But today it just didn't happen.” -- Strawn
“I've always told her, I've been very fortunate to play in a lot of amateur tournaments, invitationals, national championships, and when I go to these things, I don't like it if I'm not with her. It just makes the week longer, and the first day I'm there I'd just rather be home. I just ask her to please come with me because it just gives me a sense of being home, and it just makes the experience a lot more fulfilling when she's there.” – Strawn on having his wife’s support
“I just want to be competitive. I was competitive this week. I couldn't finish it, but you want to be here, you want to make match play and you want to be competitive in matches. I ground out a couple [matches], and overall it was a great week.” – Doug Hanzel
“You know, I'm a little older (six years), so as far as the senior events, I'm a few years ahead of him. But we've played some senior events. I played him in the Georgia Match Play in a playoff last year. He beat me in the Florida Senior Azalea in a playoff this year. So yeah, we butt heads here or there. Georgia has a lot of good guys, so you've got to stay on your toes.” – Hanzel
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, and Ron Driscoll, the USGA’s senior content manager, contributed to this article from The Kittansett Club.