INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Gene Elliott shot a brilliant 5-under-par 66 on Wednesday at Eldorado Country Club to take the 36-hole lead of 2017 Trans-Mississippi Senior Amateur Championship. The bogey-free effort propelled him into a five-shot lead in the 54-hole stroke play event.
A native of Des Moines, Iowa, the 55-year-old Elliott owns an equipment company that serves municipalities throughout seven Midwest states. He’s also one of the more accomplished senior amateurs in the entire country. Paired with his opening round 72, Elliott’s second round 66 moved him to 4-under 138 for the championship.
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Mark Morgan of Shingle Springs, Calif., is his closest pursuer. Morgan sits alone in second place at 1-over 143. The son of two Eldorado members – Les and Betty – Morgan shot 1-over 72 in the second round. Morgan said he’s played the pristine and challenging Eldorado course about a dozen times over the years when he visits his parents in the desert.
Four players are tied for third place in the Senior Division (ages 55 and older). Chuck Palmer from Dallas, Grady Brame from Hammond, La., Kory Frost from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., and Mike Rowley from San Luis Obispo, Calif., all sit at 2-over 144.
After making 15 pars in his opening round, Elliott went back to work Wednesday with six consecutive pars to start his second round. The floodgates opened on the seventh hole, a 173-yard par-3 set against the base of the jagged Santa Rosa Mountains. Elliott flew a cut 6-iron into 10 feet and drained the putt. He made another birdie from 12 feet on the next hole, a short par-4 with deep bunkers left of the green. Elliott put a bow on his front nine when he flushed 17-degree hybrid from 245 yards on the par-5 ninth hole. The shot finished six feet from the hole, and he sank the eagle putt.
“I went from even-par through six holes to 4-under through nine,” Elliott said.
He cruised from there with eight more pars and a birdie on the par-5 17th.
Elliott is 18 holes away from adding another victory to his already illustrious resume. In 1998, for example, he won the prestigious Porter Cup played annually at Niagara Falls Country Club. Elliott that year beat a monster field that included four future professional major champions. Masters winner Adam Scott, U.S. Open champions Lucas Glover and Geoff Ogilvy and British Open champion Ben Curtis all finished looking up at Elliott on the final leaderboard.
A year before that victory, Elliott defeated another future Green Jacket winner when he pounded Trevor Immelman, 6 and 4, in the first round of match play at the 1997 U.S. Amateur. Elliott three times has won the Iowa Match Play Championship while partnered with Trans-Miss Director and 2015 Walker Cupper Mike McCoy. In fact, as soon as Elliott completes play Thursday, he heads home to hook up with McCoy. In June, they’ll attempt defend their 2016 title.
As for his strategy headed into Thursday’s final round at the Trans-Miss Senior, Elliott plans to keep things simple.
“I’m going to try to keep hitting fairways and greens,” he said. “If I can get a few birdie putts to drop, I should be in good shape.”
Forty-nine players in the Senior Division made the 36-hole cut at 7-over 157 or better.
After Tuesday’s scorcher that saw the mercury touch 107 degrees, conditions were better in the second round. The California sun still radiated low triple-digit temperatures, but significantly more cloud coverage made things more tolerable. As the afternoon wore on, the breeze also picked up considerably. By 4 p.m., the winds approached 25 mph with gusts closer to 30. That also helped alleviate the heat, but it also made club selection and approach angles more demanding.
The Super Seniors (65 and older) and Legends Division (70 and older) bore the brunt of the windy conditions. Fort Worth’s Jody Vasquez fared the best with a second straight even-par 71. He takes a four-shot lead into Thursday’s final round.
Jody Vasquez, who won the Texas Super Senior Championship in 2014 in his hometown at Shady Oaks Country Club, made a bogey on his ninth hole, a birdie on his 10th and strung together 16 pars the rest of the way. He sits atop the Super Senior Division with a two-day score of even-par 142.
Another Texan, Gary Kirwan of McKinney, is in second place at 4-over 146. Kirwan made a pair of birdies in the second round and posted 1-over 72. Patrick Rohan of San Diego is third at 5-over 147.
Twenty-three players made the 36-hole cut in the Super Senior Division at 18-over 160.
Jim Martin of Dallas saw his six-stroke lead after the first round cut in half following Wednesday’s play. He followed his 68 with a 6-over 77. His two-round total of 3-over 145 gives him a three-shot advantage over Michael Mahoney of La Jolla, Calif. Mahoney shot 2-over 73 in the second round. Third place in the Legends Division belongs to John Walker of Scottsdale, Ariz. Walker posted 75 both days for 8-over 150.
Ten players survived the Legends Division cut at 18-over 160.
The final round of the 2017 Trans-Miss Senior Amateur Championship begins Thursday at 7:30 a.m.
About the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association
The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf organizations in the United States. Established in 1901, the Trans-Mississippi is composed of over 200 member clubs located throughout the country. The Association is governed by a board of independent directors and is headquartered in Dallas, TX.
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