CASHIERS, N.C. – Douglas Hanzel ensured that the longest current medalist drought in USGA amateur championship competition would continue.
Hanzel, 56, of Savannah, Ga., defeated top seed Chip Lutz, 58, of Reading, Pa., 3 and 2, in the first of two semifinal matches on Thursday morning at the 2013 USGA Senior Amateur at Wade Hampton Golf Club. Hanzel will meet Pat O’Donnell, 59, of Happy Valley, Ore., in the 18-hole final at 12:30 p.m. EDT. O’Donnell eliminated Buzz Fly, 58, of Memphis, Tenn., 2 and 1.
The semifinal matches were pushed back to Thursday because of rain, fog and unplayable conditions on Wednesday. It’s the first time since 2002 that both the semifinals and championship match were contested on the same day.
Not since 1987, when John Richardson won at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., had a qualifying medalist also claimed the championship trophy at the Senior Amateur, a span of 26 years. No other USGA amateur competition has had a medalist drought this long.
“I heard that last night,” said Lutz, now a three-time Senior Amateur semifinalist (2010, 2011 and 2013). “I was really trying to put that out of my mind. I was kind of surprised [it had been that long].”
Unfortunately for him, Lutz ran into a hot player. Hanzel, the low amateur at the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Senior Opens, raced to a 4-up lead at the turn, shooting the equivalent of 4-under 32, with the usual match-play concessions.
Lutz had shot under par in all of his previous six rounds on the 6,842-yard, par-72 Tom Fazio design, including a pair of 3-under 69s in qualifying. He made six birdies in his 4-and-3 quarterfinal win on Wednesday, but had just one birdie in 16 holes against Hanzel.
Hanzel, the only player in USGA history to make match play in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and Senior Amateur in the same year (2012), went 1 up on the par-3 third hole when he stuffed his tee shot to gimme range, and Lutz could not answer from 5 feet. On the par-5 fourth hole, Hanzel rolled in a long birdie putt and Lutz, facing a 4-footer, missed and went 2 down.
At the seventh hole, Lutz knocked a wedge approach to 6 feet for another winning birdie. He also birdied the ninth hole from 8 feet.
“I knew I was going to have to play under-par golf against Chip and I got out to a quick start,” said Hanzel, the 2012 Georgia Senior Amateur champion. “My goal was to hit fairways and greens. I struck it good and I hit a couple of good putts.”
Lutz won two of the next three holes to trim the margin to 2 down. He rolled in a 12-foot putt on the par-5 10th for his lone birdie. At the par-4 12th, Hanzel’s 3-iron off the tee was pulled left under a bush, where he had to take an unplayable lie. He made a bogey 5, and Lutz converted a 7-foot comeback par putt to win the hole.
Hanzel, however, kept hitting quality shots to force Lutz to top him. It didn’t happen. Hanzel closed out the match with a brilliant 8-iron approach from 170 yards to 12 feet at the 16th hole and calmly two-putted for the victory. He was three under for 16 holes, while Lutz was even par.
“It was a good, solid round given … it was a semifinal match,” said Hanzel, a pulmonary-care physician who will be playing in his first USGA final. “I hit the ball pretty good where I was aiming, especially the last shot [on 16].”
For Lutz, it was more disappointment in a USGA championship. A two-time winner of the British Seniors Open Amateur (2011 and 2012) and Canadian Senior Amateur (2011 and 2012) – both stroke-play events – Lutz is still looking for his first USGA national championship.
“It’s disappointing,” said Lutz. “Hats off to him. He played nicely. At least I didn’t lose to a bad score.
“I played well in the stroke-play portion. I love that part of the game, and I love [match play]. I just don’t play it as much. Unfortunately, timing sometimes is important. If you get the wrong guy at the wrong time, you’re down the road.”
For O’Donnell, the matchup against Hanzel is a rematch from last year’s Senior Amateur quarterfinals at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., where Hanzel prevailed, 3 and 1.
O’Donnell will be looking for the same effort in the final that he had against Fly. He played 2-under golf (with concessions) for 17 holes, making just one bogey (ninth hole).
“Today was awesome,” said O’Donnell. “I had good tempo. Everything was really good. It was a great match. Buzz is a good player. He didn’t miss too many shots. It came down to making a few putts out there.”
O’Donnell, a maintenance analyst for Boeing, never trailed against Fly. He opened with a birdie at the par-5 first hole, but Fly squared the match two holes later with a birdie 2 on No. 3. A double-bogey 6 by Fly at the seventh gave O’Donnell a 1-up lead, which he held until Fly birdied the 13th hole to square the match.
One hole later, O’Donnell, competing in his fourth Senior Amateur and fifth USGA championship, took the lead for good with a par on the 14th hole. He closed out the match with a birdie at the 17th.
O’Donnell credited much of his success this week to his friend/caddie Craig Plummer.
“He keeps reminding me to keep up the tempo,” said O’Donnell. “He tells me a lot of jokes.”
O’Donnell was pleased that USGA officials decided to start the semifinal matches on Thursday morning.
“To play nine holes or 11 or 12, whatever we could have gotten in last night, and then to try and walk back out and tee it up somewhere or from the middle of the fairway, this is better. We got to start the match fresh in the morning.”
Both the finalists receive exemptions into this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Country Club of Birmingham in Alabama (Oct. 5-10), next year’s U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga., and the 2014 U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. The champion receives a 10-year exemption from qualifying for the Senior Amateur, an exemption from local qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open and an exemption to the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. The runner-up receives a three-year Senior Amateur exemption.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.