The unflappable Paul Simson sets out to defend his U.S. Senior Amateur title at Kinloch Golf Club outside Richmond, Virginia this week. However, all eyes will be on Pennsylvania’s Chip Lutz, as he tries to duplicate what Simson did last year. It’s something few thought they would ever see happen once, much less in consecutive years – to win three national senior amateur titles in a single calendar year.
Simson’s year was unprecedented, and probably should have won him amateur of the year accolades. He did not get the recognition he deserved for this feat, not that it bothered him terribly. No one had ever held the British, Canadian and American senior amateur trophies at one time. But like the four-minute mile, once it was done, others, too, thought they could do the impossible. Lutz was one of them.
Earlier this year, Lutz won the British Senior Amateur at Royal Portrush when he came from behind and defeated playing partner Frank Ford III. In late August, he won the Canadian Amateur, holding off Simson and battling through difficult weather. Now, he heads to Kinloch in an effort to grab the third, and most difficult, of the three national senior titles. The first two are straight up stroke- play tournaments; the U.S. Senior begins with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, followed by match play for the low 64 qualifiers. As Lutz recognizes, anything can happen in match play. Just ask U.S. Amateur runner-up and World No.1 Patrick Cantlay.
Lutz’s back story, like so many on the senior circuit, is an interesting one, especially since he has not been a lifelong, nationally competitive amateur. In fact, there was a stretch in his life where he really didn’t play much golf at all.
Lutz comes from a golf family, and he started playing at a very young age. His father, Buddy, was a local legend in eastern Pennsylvania, winning the Sunnehanna Invitational in 1947 and 1949. Lutz was good enough to land a spot on the University of Florida golf team in 1972, but two years into school, after competing against guys like Andy Bean, Gary Koch, Andy North and Fred Ridley, Lutz decided to concentrate on his studies. Bean, Koch and North went on to strong PGA Tour careers, while Ridley won the 1975 U.S. Amateur.
After getting his law degree, Lutz left competitive golf for several years as he focused on getting his career and family started. In the late 1990s, he found the time to play more events, winning the Golf Association of Philadelphia Mid-Amateur in 1998 and qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur for the first time that same year. As senior golf drew nearer, he increased the frequency of his regional play, and when he turned 55, he took senior amateur golf by storm.
Lutz’s 2010 rookie season, which ended with him ranked as the No. 1 senior amateur in the U.S., was impressive. He won six events, including the North and South Senior Amateur at Pinehurst. Lutz dominated the season-long point’s race – his total of 7,920 points was more than 1,700 points ahead of runner-up Bill Zylstra. He was runner-up to Paul Simson in the 2010 British Senior Amateur, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Senior Am before bowing out to Pat Tallent.
This year, Lutz has taken a page from Simson’s book and has been a bit more selective about his schedule, focusing less on points and more on quality championships. Nonetheless, he has three national senior wins, including the Coleman Invitational, and he partnered with Chris Lange to win the International Four-Ball at the Fox Club.
Despite getting off to a torrid start in 2010, Lutz switched to a long putter, and credits that to his ability to remain competitive.
“I have always believed I was a good putter,” he told me, “but when I began to get a bit wiggly over the shorter putts, I knew I needed to make a change. Going to the long putter has improved my scoring.”
Lutz acknowledges that winning the U.S. Senior is, “ a tall order.” And, he adds: “I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.” But he is well aware of what he is trying to accomplish, and its place in the annals of amateur golf.
He and the other members of the 156-man field are in for a stern test at Kinloch. Developed by Lester George and career amateur Vinny Giles, who won the 2009 Senior Amateur title at Beverly Country Club in Chicago to balance his 1972 U.S. Amateur championship, the golf course is a 7,203-yard parkland layout on rolling topography. Immaculately conditioned, it is highly ranked in most of the course rankings by magazines. It came through unscathed by the recent Tropical Storm Irene that swept up the east coast.
Lutz’s friend and fellow competitor Mike McCoy relayed this story to me: When Lutz gets frustrated or irritated about his game, he washes his car. Seriously. Which suggests that Mrs. Lutz has done a lot of car washing the last two years.