When the playing captain wins the tournament, chances are good his team will, too. That was Gene Elliott’s story on a soggy week at the Golfweek Challenge Cup. Elliott captained his team to a 46-shot victory at PGA National. The event was shortened from 54 to 36 holes because of rain, but Elliott’s path to individual victory took on one extra hole.
The Challenge Cup pitted teams of top seniors captained by Elliott, the No. 1-ranked senior player in the world, and Ken Kinkopf, Golfweek’s 2019 Senior Player of the Year, against each other at PGA National, a PGA Tour venue. The best 10 scores on each man’s team counted toward the total.
At the top of the senior division leaderboard, however, it felt like a match-play tournament. Elliott actually went head-to-head on the final day with a member of his own team, Bob Royak. Elliott had a one-shot lead at the beginning of the day, turned it into a five-shot lead by the fourth hole then watched as it evaporated over the back nine. He fired a 73 to Royak’s 72 and after both men finished at 3 under, Elliott defeated Royak in an extra trip up the 18th hole.
Scores: Golfweek Challenge Cup
“I felt like I had the tournament all day long and then all of a sudden, a bogey and double bogey by me and a birdie by him, and then here we are, it’s a real horse-race,” Elliott said. “He’s a great player, I have a lot of respect for Bob Royak. He’s a wonderful guy.”
The two men already did battle at the Jones Cup in March, with Royak, the defending U.S. Senior Amateur champion, coming out on top of that. Because of that experience, and many others, Elliott knew he couldn’t just walk through the final round with Royak chasing him.
After the second round of the Challenge Cup was washed out, players returned to tough, wet conditions. PGA National showed its teeth regardless.
“You have to hit golf shots. There’s no faking it around there,” Elliott said. “Getting to know that course over the last few days, I have a lot of respect for it.”
Royak felt like the wet conditions may have helped him a bit because of his long game.
“I do feel like it favors me,” he said. “I think it favors good ballstrikers, I kind of consider myself a pretty good ballstriker. When the wind is blowing like that you just have to hit it really solid.
“I’m pretty steady and concentrate on hitting the ball flush, solid every time.”
Royak also knows what to expect out of Elliott. He doesn’t often have a bad hole and opponents know he’ll be right at par or better by the end of the round.
While Elliott and Royak played a starring role on the winning team, Team Kinkopf got a big boost from Doug Hanzel, T-4 in the senior division, and Johnny Blank, who won the legend division. Ultimately, it just wasn’t enough.
From here, Elliott and Royak both plan to plan another team event next month: the East West Matches at Maridoe Golf Club in Carrollton, Texas. Royak will play on the East team while Elliott is on the West. The teams are made up of elite senior amateurs, mid-amateurs and four top collegians.