Add another reason for Strawn and Company Insurance to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Maybe it’s even worth adding to the shingle outside their office in McDonough that company CEO Rusty Strawn now is a USGA champion.
Strawn on Thursday became the fourth Georgian to win the U.S. Senior Amateur championship. He did it with a 3-and-2 win over fellow Georgian Doug Hanzel of Savannah, who won the tournament in 2013, at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass.
“It’s amazing,” Strawn said. “I never thought I’d have this. I thought I’d have the opportunity, but if I could actually pull it off, that’s what I was always questioning myself. I felt like I had the game if the right conditions and the right course setup because I have the determination.”
It was a big week for Georgians, who nabbed three of the four semifinal spots.
Strawn joined Hanzel, Bill Ploeger of Columbus (1999) and Bob Royak of Alpharetta (2019), whom Strawn defeated in the semifinal round, as U.S. Senior Amateur champions.
“Georgia has got a lot of good guys, so you’ve got to stay on your toes,” Hanzel said. “You only get better with guys playing as good as you or better than you. Again, watching (Strawn) today, you learn. You learn how to score your ball.”
Strawn jumped on Hanzel early and was 5 up after six holes. Hanzel steadied himself and got back in the match by winning back-to-back holes at Nos. 11 and 12. Strawn went 4 up with a par on the par-3 14th hole, but Hanzel kept the match alive with a birdie at No. 15. The match concluded when both men made par on the 16th hole.
“I got off to a good start, and I just wanted to make pars, I wanted to hit fairways, I wanted to hit greens, I wanted to make par putts,” Strawn said.
Strawn said the key to the round was saving par at the seventh hole, where his tee shot found the hazard, but he managed to get up-and-down from 50 yards for par.
“That gave me confidence moving forward to the rest of the round that I wasn’t going to go crazy,” he said.
Hanzel, a 65-year-old heart surgeon, said, “I didn’t hit really terrible shots, not good shots, and I 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.”
Strawn continued his breakthrough season. This year he won the Florida Senior Azalea Amateur, was second in the Society of Seniors Senior Masters, won the Trans-Mississippi Senior, journeyed across the pond to finish 17th in the British Senior Amateur and missed the cut by one shot at the British Senior Open. He is ranked No. 593 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Strawn also becomes the fourth Georgia Southern graduate to win a USGA championship, joining Buddy Alexander (1986 U.S. Amateur), Jodie Mudd (1980 and 1981 U.S. Public Links) and Gene Sauers (2016 U.S. Senior Open.)
Strawn was the No. 8-seeded player after emerging from the two stroke-play rounds, where he shot 72-72 to easily qualify. In match play, he defeated Scott Copeland of Florida 2 and 1 in the first round, ran over Craig Steinberg of California 4 and 3 in the second round, got past Paul Simson of North Carolina 1 up in the third round, beat Miles McConnell of Florida 5 and 3 in the quarterfinal and beat Royak 6 and 5 in the semifinal.
Strawn and Hanzel both receive an exemption into the U.S. Mid-Amateur that begins Sept. 10 at Erin Hills, the 2023 U.S. Senior Open and the 2023 U.S. Amateur.
Credit: USGA Museum
Credit: USGA Museum