Michigan amateur athletes have made multiple successful runs at national tournaments in recent weeks, and Jerry Gunthorpe of Ovid hopes to add his name to the growing list.
There was Valentine Rossi of Michigan State reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, James Piot of Canton and Michigan State winning the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont and, of course, the Taylor North Little League squad winning the Little League World Series.
Gunthorpe has worked his way through the match play bracket of the U.S. Senior Amateur this week at Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms to reach the finals, set for Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. He won his quarterfinal match over Rusty Strawn of McDonough, New York, on Wednesday morning, 2-and-1, before defeating Dave Bunker of Canada, 3-and-1 in the afternoon.
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In Thursday’s final, Gunthorpe will take on Gene Elliott of West Des Moines, Iowa, who is the reigning British Senior Amateur champion.
Gunthorpe noted that it has been a long week, with seven rounds of golf in five days, but said, “I’ve got gas left in the tank. One more round.”
In his semifinal, Gunthorpe got a hot start with two birdies in the first three holes, winning all three. Gunthorpe never trailed in the match, although Bunker got within one hole on the front nine. Gunthorpe then birdied hole Nos. 10 and 11 to regain a 3-up advantage.
On the 12th hole, it appeared he would drop a hole when his approach shot plugged in the greenside sand, up against the lip. But he got the ball out to about 15 feet and made the critical par putt to halve the hole. Each player won two holes apiece the rest of the way.
“I knew I could get the ball out,” Gunthorpe said about the 12th hole. “I knew I could get it within 15 or 20 feet. It was the putt from about 15 feet that was the crucial step.”
This is new territory for Gunthorpe, whose biggest win to date is the Horton Smith Invitational at Detroit Golf Club in 2004. Elliott, his finals opponent, is playing in his 36th USGA event. By making the final, Gunthorpe has already secured an exemption into the U.S. Mid-Am later this month, plus the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open next year.
Tom Gieselman of Commerce Township, and a member at Oakland Hills, also reached the quarterfinals, but was defeated by Elliott, 2-and-1, in the morning. Of the 156 players who began stroke play on Saturday to determine match play seeding, two Michiganders made the final eight golfers.
If the 58-year-old Gunthorpe can pull off the win — with his son Nathan, am MSU golfer in the mid-2000s on the bag — the state of Michigan will be the holder of both USGA national men’s amateur championships for the first time ever.
“I really haven’t tried too many USGA events,” Gunthorpe said. “I (spent my time) raising my kids, playing golf with them, did all that stuff. This was secondary to me, the competition side.
“I’m okay with that and I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”