Orlando, Fla. – Many golfers look forward to the transition from mid-amateur to senior level competition. The courses are often shorter, you aren’t competing against bombers and you can utilize motorized transportation.
So Chip Lutz had every reason to celebrate his 55th birthday this past January. And it didn’t take the Reading, Pa., native very long to announce himself to the competition, winning the GolfweekSenior National Championship at the Doral Resort & Spa in Miami, Fla., six days after blowing out the candles. He has proceeded to win the International 4-Ball, Society of Seniors Spring Classic, Trans-Mississippi, North and South Senior and Sunnehanna Senior titles in 2010. He also was the runner-up to Paul Simson at the British Senior Amateur.
However, the biggest prize still remained.
After earning a second consecutive 1-up decision in his first USGA Senior Amateur – he ousted 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2008 Senior Amateur runner-up George J. Zahringer III of New York on Tuesday at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club – Lutz is one-third of the way toward collecting the top prize among the 55-and-over set.
I’ve had a really good year, said Lutz. This was something I hoped I would play well at.
The Senior Amateur rookie definitely has played four solid rounds to this point. He shot 1-under 143 in stroke-play qualifying to earn the No. 5 seed, but got a tougher-than-expected tussle from playoff survivor Thomas Nesbitt of Nashville, Tenn., in the first round.
It didn’t get any easier against Zahringer. The 57-year-old is one of the most decorated amateur golfers in Metropolitan Golf Association (Greater New York City) history, having earned 10 Player of the Year awards. In 2003 at the age of 50, Zahringer advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont Country Club, earning him a selection to the USA Walker Cup Team.
Neither player had more than a 1-up advantage the entire match, with Lutz shooting the equivalent of 1-under 71, with the usual match-play concessions.
Zahringer, however, made a mistake at the par-3 17th hole, chunking a chip shot that led to a critical bogey. At 18, he missed a 20-foot birdie from the fringe and Lutz two-putted from 18 feet, making a 4-foot uphill par putt to seal the victory.
Nothing is easy as it seems, said Lutz, who has noticed that senior golf is every bit as competitive as the mid-amateur (25 and over) level. It’s unbelievable. I qualified relatively low … and Tom [Nesbitt] takes me to the mat. Tom played wonderfully yesterday. And today George played great. It was a tight, tight match. Every shot counted today.
Getting another win gives me confidence, but gosh, there’s a lot more golf left.
Lutz, who is a title insurance attorney, comes from a golf family. His father, Buddy, was a local legend in eastern Pennsylvania, winning the Sunnehanna Invitational in 1947 and 1949. In 1948, he lost to Arnold Palmer, who went on to claim the title. When Lutz won the senior version of the competition a few weeks ago, Sunnehanna officials brought out the big trophy to show Chip where his father’s name was inscribed. Lutz said it was an emotional moment for him.
Buddy was so into golf that he decided to name all three boys John with interesting middle names.
We were named Chip, Wedge and Putt, said Lutz. Chip is my nickname. I also have a sister named Courtney. She always felt left out because she never got a golf nickname.
Chip was good enough to land a spot on the University of Florida golf team in 1972, but two years into school, competing against guys like Steve Smyers, Andy Bean, Gary Koch, Andy North, Kip Minter, Phil Hancock , Mike Killian 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. Killian played on the 1973 USA Walker Cup Team.
Lutz, who ironically faces University of Florida golf coach Stewart Alexander in the third round Thursday afternoon, left competitive golf in the rear-view mirror 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. In 1998 he won the Golf Association of Philadelphia Mid-Amateur and qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
I started to play more state, regional and national events, said Lutz. It became fun again.
Now that he’s 55, senior golf is even more enjoyable.
These young kids are bombing it so far today, he said. I think I hit it pretty well for my age, but the younger fellows in their 20s and 30s just step on it. They are 30 and 40 yards by me. When I got to my early 50s, it became more difficult to compete on that level. This year I took the opportunity to really focus on my game.
So far it’s paying off.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.