Five Michigan men taking their shot in U.S. Senior Amateur at CC of Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For several years recently, Clarkston's Mark Eriksen has been referred to around town as the best golfer who never practiced. He rarely found the time, with all his kids growing up playing sports, including football, soccer, and track and field, with three kids going on to play sports in college.

Finally, it's Dad's turn to get back into the competitive athletics arena.

"That's exactly right," Eriksen said, with a laugh.

Country Club of Detroit is hosting the U.S. Senior Amateur, starting Saturday.

Eriksen will be among the 156 players who tee it up in this week's U.S. Senior Amateur, which is being held at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Eriksen is one of five Michigan residents in the field, along with Chris Chocola of Harbor Springs, Tom (Walter) Gieselman of Commerce Township, Jerry Gunthorpe of Ovid and Rick Herpich of Orchard Lake. Two rounds of stroke play are set for Saturday and Sunday, with the low 64 moving to match play, which concludes with the 18-hole championship match Thursday, Sept. 2.

It's the biggest event for Eriksen since he qualified for the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur. He was asked if he's nervous or excited, and he responded, "Yes."

"That's the old 'Parent Trap' answer,'" said Eriksen, 58.

Eriksen played in the qualifier July 19 at Oakland Hills Country Club's North Course, and got it going on the back nine before making a "really dumb bogey" on the last hole to finish at 2-over 72, just outside of an automatic qualifying spot for this week's tournament. He won the playoff to be first alternate, though alternates rarely get the call.

Eriksen not only got the call, he also got an email Aug. 16 from the United States Golf Association. He was in Mt. Pleasant playing in the Golf Association of Michigan's Senior Four-Ball Championship when he got the email and call, and quickly returned the latter. He wanted in.

And he now has a 2:10 p.m. Saturday at the club best known for hosting the 1954 U.S. Amateur, won by Arnold Palmer — the victory Palmer always credited as kickstarting his legendary career.

"It was great," Eriksen said. "It's one of those things, you try every year, but for me it's been a little bit patchy in terms of when I qualify and when I don't. When you play in these type of events, they're very special."

Among the other notable players in the field: Fred Ridley, the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion who is chairman of Augusta National Golf Club; Bob Royak, the defending U.S. Senior Amateur champion who won in 2019 (the 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-10; Gene Elliott, the top-ranked amateur senior golfer in the world; Jim Lehman, brother of long-time PGA Tour player Tom Lehman; Timothy Rypien, brother of long-time NFL quarterback Mark Rypien; and Jon Kosier, a former Michigan State golfer who played on the PGA Tour in the 1980s and now lives in Texas.

The tournament is open to players 55 and older (as of Saturday), with a handicap of 7.4 or better.

Eriksen, who played collegiately at Western Michigan and is a member at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club (he'll have to miss this week's Ally Challenge, the Champions Tour event), has played Country Club of Detroit quite frequently over the years. A brother used to be a member, and a friend used to host an annual outing there that Eriksen would regularly play in. So he knows the terrain, and he said his game is in decent shape, while admitting it still "comes and goes a little too frequently than I care to admit." He hits the ball long enough, and his short game is a plus, though his putting can be streaky (whose isn't?).

The goal, he said, is to make match play — the same goal a kid from Michigan State named James Piot had entering the U.S. Amateur earlier this month. Piot was last man standing, becoming the first Michigan native to win the USGA's signature amateur event. Eriksen would love to follow Piot to victory.

"That," said Eriksen, "would be something."

U.S. Senior Amateur

►When: Saturday through Thursday, Sept. 2

►Where: Country Club of Detroit, Grosse Pointe Farms

►Schedule: Saturday-Sunday — two rounds of stroke play; Monday-Tuesday — first three rounds of match play; Wednesday, Sept. 1 — match-play quarterfinals and semifinals; Thursday, Sept. 2 — 18-hole championship match

►Field: 156 golfers, including Michigan residents Chris Chocola of Harbor Springs, Mark Eriksen of Clarkston Tom (Walter) Gieselman of Commerce Township, Jerry Gunthorpe of Ovid and Rick Herpich of Orchard Lake

We're running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984