'I know I can play with these guys': Ovid's Jerry Gunthorpe makes U.S. Senior Amateur final

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Farms — Every morning, for the last four mornings, Jerry Gunthorpe has checked out of his room at the Holiday Inn Express in Roseville. And every night, he's checked back in.

Gunthorpe just keeps on winning at the U.S. Senior Amateur, and the Ovid, Michigan, resident now finds himself in the championship match, set for Thursday morning at Country Club of Detroit.

Gunthorpe, 58, beat Canada's Dave Bunker, 3 and 1, on Wednesday afternoon to make the final. It was his fifth match win of the week. Not bad for a fella whose goal coming into the week was one.

Jerry Gunthorpe hits his drive on the seventh hole of his U.S. Senior Amateur semifinal match Wednesday at Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms.

"Just win one match," Gunthorpe said following his semifinal triumph, standing in the stately clubhouse where Arnold Palmer celebrated his legendary U.S. Amateur title 67 years ago. "I told myself coming into here I wasn't going to lose a match on my own. I am going to stick to what I do and not change what I've been doing, and that's basically the way I've been doing it all week.

"So far, it's been a good run."

By making the U.S. Senior Amateur championship match, he has earned exemptions into the U.S. Mid-Amateur later this month in Nantucket, Massachusetts (his son Nick is an alternate), as well as the 2022 U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open. He's also earned a three-year exemption into the upcoming U.S. Senior Amateurs. If he wins Thursday, he can skip local qualifying for the 2022 U.S. Open.

Those were all goodies he had no clue about until a reporter told him Wednesday afternoon.

He was still focused on the task at hand — and it's a mighty one, against Gene Elliott, of West Des Moines, Iowa, who is the reigning British Amateur champion.

In beating Bunker in Wednesday's semifinal, Gunthorpe got off to a hot start, with birdies on the first three holes, and a quick 3-up lead. Things turned a little sour at the end of the back nine, as Bunker, with some spectacular iron play and clutch putting, pulled to within one hole.

But the back nine was Gunthorpe's. He birdied Nos. 10 and 11, and made a clutch 15-foot par putt at 12 — after blasting out of a fried-egg lie in a greenside bunker — to remain 3-up. With son Nate, a former Michigan State golfer and expert greens reader, on the bag, and wife Joani, who caddied for him at the U.S. Senior Amateur qualifier, watching intently, Gunthorpe closed the match with a birdie at the par-5 17th. He played golf at Lansing Community College. Nick played golf at Grand Valley State. (Daughter Casey was a cheerleader at Michigan State, whom Jerry calls the best athlete in the family.)

It's one of the top golfing families in the state, but there's nothing like this on the resume — yet.

U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR RESULTS, SCHEDULE

"I know I can play with these guys," said Gunthorpe, who played in the 2019 U.S. Senior Amateur (losing his first match), and who counts the 2004 Michigan Medal Play at Detroit Golf Club as his top victory. "I tried for the Champions Tour in 2012; I got through one stage of the Champions Tour, and I knew I could play with those guys. I don't like the grind. I don't want to do the grind.

"For me, it's just a justification that I can play with those people. I just got to put myself in the positions to get the chance, get the reps, and I feel like I can play with anybody."

In his morning quarterfinal match Wednesday, Gunthorpe beat Rusty Strawn, of McDonough, Georgia, 2 and 1, closing the match with a par, also at 17. Bunker beat Atlanta's Billy Mitchell, 1-up, in the quarters.

Gunthorpe, who lives and owns a plumbing business in Ovid (northeast of Lansing; population 1,600) and plays out of Owosso Country Club, continues a magical string of impressive performances by Michiganians in United States Golf Association tournaments. 

Canton's James Piot, a Michigan State golfer, became the first Michigan native ever to win the U.S. Amateur when he won at Oakmont last month. Earlier this summer, Michigan State golfer Valentina Rossi advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur, a year after her teammate, Valery Plata, did the same.

Elliott, 59, beat Craig Davis, of Chula Vista, California, 5 and 4, in his semifinal match. Elliott, one of the top-ranked senior amateurs in the world, won his quarterfinal in the morning against Commerce Township's Tom Gieselman, who rallied from an early three-hole deficit to pull within one late on the back nine. But Elliott hung on to win, 2 and 1.

Gieselman was three down through three holes, and still two down after 11. An eagle-2 at the 347-yard, par-4 15th hole cut the deficit to one hole, but Elliott won it with birdie at the par-5 17th.

Tom Gieselman, of Commerce Township, lines up his putt on the second hole during his quarterfinal match in the U.S. Senior Amateur.

Gieselman, 59, still takes away an exemption into next year's U.S. Senior Amateur, and some pretty good memories, particularly with all the friends and family who followed his run.

"It was really exciting," Gieselman said. "It was a whirlwind, but just kind of took it all in. ... I guess the best part about it was having my family here the whole time. Friends were out there. Probably got a thousand texts. That was the best part of the whole thing, whether I won or not. That was really cool."

Gunthorpe is the top seed remaining, at No. 9, after No. 2 Chip Lutz, of Reading, Pennsylvania, fell to Davis, 3 and 2, in the morning. Lutz won the U.S. Senior Amateur in 2015 and the British Senior Amateur in 2016.

This is the third United States Golf Association championship hosted by Country Club of Detroit, after the 1915 and 1954 U.S. Amateurs.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984