U.S. Senior Amateur kicks off on 67th anniversary of Arnold Palmer's historic win at CC of Detroit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For the third time, the United States Golf Association has brought one of its signature tournaments to the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms.

The last time, in 1954, a young man named Arnold Palmer won the U.S. Amateur, serving as the springboard to one of the most legendary careers the game has ever seen.

On Saturday, the 67th anniversary of Palmer's triumph and the opening day of the U.S. Senior Amateur, the USGA paid tribute to "The King," with a replica of his U.S. Amateur trophy on display, as well as one of Palmer's set of clubs, on loan from the late seven-time major champion's foundation. The 18th flag at Country Club of Detroit this week is a silhouette of Palmer.

A commemorative Arnold Palmer flag is seen on the 18th hole pf the 2021 U.S. Senior Amateur at Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms.

The trophy is one of three 100% replicas in existence, presented to Palmer in 2005 by then-USGA president Fred Ridley, who now is chairman at Augusta National Golf Club. (Now, champions like Michigan State's James Piot get to keep the main trophy for a year, then have the option to purchase a 90% replica to display forever.) A former U.S. Amateur champion himself, Ridley used an exemption into this week's U.S. Senior Amateur at Country Club of Detroit because of the Palmer connection, and the significance of that victory.

“He was my idol. He was my hero,” said Ridley, 69, who shot an opening-round 85. “He was a man of the people. He always had time for everyone.

"There’s not going to be anyone like him ever again."

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Three players, including 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz, held the first-round stroke-play lead after rounds of 4-under 68. When Lutz won his title in 2015, Palmer sent him a letter of congratulations, as Palmer did with so many champions, young and old, over the years.

The top 64 players after Sunday's round will advance to the match-play portion of the tournament.

Inside the cutline after Round 1 was former Michigan resident Kevin VandenBerg, who now lives in New York. VandenBerg, who in 2000 won Michigan's summer Triple Crown — the Michigan Amateur, Golf Association of Michigan Championship and the GAM's Mid-Amateur — shot a 1-under 71.

Jerry Gunthorpe, of Ovid, hits from the bunker at No. 3 on Saturday.

He was joined at 71 by Ovid's Jerry Gunthorpe, whose family is finding success on the course as of late. His son, Nick, recently earned alternate status for next month's U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Other scores by Michigan residents Saturday: Commerce Township's Tom Gieselman and Orchard Lake's Rich Herpich shot 76 and with a could round Sunday could make match play, while Harbor Springs' Chris Chocola shot 79 and Clarkston's Mark Eriksen.

Each of the 156 players in the field this week received a letter from Palmer's daughter, Amy Saunders. The Country Club of Detroit locker room also decorated with photos of Palmer, including a Sports Illustrated cover.

Country Club of Detroit also hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1915.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984