Upcoming U.S. Senior Amateur Attracts Loaded Field To Lupton Invitational

  • Friday, May 24, 2024
  • Paul Payne
Mike McCoy, captain of last year's winning U.S. Walker Cup team, displays his commemorative golf bag at Friday's John T. Lupton Memorial
Mike McCoy, captain of last year's winning U.S. Walker Cup team, displays his commemorative golf bag at Friday's John T. Lupton Memorial
photo by Paul Payne

Receiving an offer to participate in the John T. Lupton Memorial is always a cherished opportunity. But with The Honors Course serving as host to this year’s U.S. Senior Amateur in August, the invitation has even greater significance for the field’s senior competitors.

Among the 48 participants in the Senior Amateur division, 13 have already earned exemption to the 69th U.S. Senior Amateur scheduled for Aug. 24-29 at the Pete Dye-designed masterpiece in Ooltewah. This has produced the strongest senior grouping ever for a Lupton Invitational according to Henrik Simonsen, Director of Golf and Chief Operating Officer at The Honors Course.

“We have always tried to have the very best field that we can have, but we have seen a huge uptick on the senior side just given the fact that we're hosting what we're hosting,” Simonsen said. “Of the 48 senior players we have playing, probably 40 of them will be playing here again in August. We probably have the strongest senior field in golf that’s not the U.S. Senior Amateur.”

Having the chance to learn the subtleties of The Honors Course since the restoration overseen by Gil Hanse in 2022 is critical for those returning in August. But it’s not the lone reason for Atlanta resident Jack Larkin, winner of the 1979 U.S. Junior among his 21 USGA events and participant in the U.S. Amateur across five decades.

“I’ve gotten an exemption, so I’m already in,” Larkin said. “Everybody wants to come and kind of get a sneak preview since the restoration. Any more rounds you can play here, the better you get to know the course. But I was coming either way. Even if the Senior Amateur was in Detroit, I’m coming to play in this tournament because of the golf course and the unbelievable way they take care of the golfers.”

Securing one of the coveted 156 spots in the upcoming national showcase is something on the forefront of Steve Mann’s thoughts as he makes his first appearance in the Lupton Invitational. After winning the 2023 Tennessee Senior State Amateur, the Franklin, Tenn. resident is taking special notice navigating his way around The Honors Course.

“It’s such an honor to be invited to play here, and this field is loaded with a lot of nationally-ranked guys,” Mann said. “I’m signed up to qualify in North Carolina, so hopefully I’ll get to come back this summer. This golf course and these green structures force you to always be learning, and you can’t pick that up just playing it a few times. It will be a perfect venue for the Senior Am.”

Making a return visit to The Honors Course brings fond memories to Mike McCoy, who captained the United States to a victory in last year’s Walker Cup at St. Andrews. McCoy made it to the semifinals when the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur was staged there – one of 68 USGA events over the course of his storied career – before winning the same tournament eight years later in Birmingham.

“I love coming to The Honors,” said McCoy, an Iowa native who plays out of Florida’s prestigious Seminole Golf Club and has earned exemption to the U.S. Senior Amateur. “I came here last year for the Southern Am to follow some of the kids I would be taking to the Walker Cup, and obviously everyone wants to get a look at it since the restoration. It’s a special place because they treat you so well and they love amateur golf.”

The Lupton Invitational encourages golfers to walk during the competition, and this is another element that Simonsen believes makes the event attractive to participants.

“We wanted to make it feel more like a major in their world,” Simonsen said. “Some of those guys are used to riding carts every day, but they find a way to walk when they are here. We've always promoted walking. I think our leadership and our chairman like that feel. I think this pretty much fits into who we are. Hopefully, many of them will see our course twice this year and like it, and then keep coming back.”

Georgia’s Rusty Strawn shot an opening round 5-under 67, carding six birdies accompanied by a lone bogey to lead the Senior division following a brief weather delay. Starting on the back, Strawn opened with a pair of birdies and closed his opening nine with a 32 after two more birdies on 17 and 18.

He leads by one shot over fellow Georgian Jack Hall, who closed with 32 over his final nine to finish at 4-under 68 on the 6,489-yard layout.

Dan Sullivan of California is tied for third after a bogey-free round with two birdies, sitting at 2-under 70 along with McCoy, who won this event in 2014 as a mid-amateur.

A quartet of golfers stand tied for fifth at 1-under 71, including North Carolina’s Sherrill Britt, three-time former champion Doug Hanzel of Georgia, Robert Gerwin of Ohio and Michigan’s Jerry Gunthorpe.

Two-time champion Joe Deraney, who lost in a playoff last year to Hayes Brown, is the co-leader after the first day in the Mid-Amateur division. The Mississippi native posted four birdies, and only a bogey on No. 18 blemished his round of 3-under 69

He is tied with Chris Wheeler of Texas, whose eagle on the 557-yard par 5 sixth hole highlighted his round.

Three golfers are knotted in third at 2-under 70, including Nick Maccario of Massachusetts, Simon McInnis of Canada and Ryan Greer of The Honors Course.

Vance Embry, who plays out of The Farm in nearby Dalton, Ga., had the shot of the day with a hole in one on No. 3, playing at a distance of 187 yards.

Second round play resumes Saturday morning at 8:30 EDT.

For complete results and live scoring, go to 2024 Lupton Invitational.

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Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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