Gene Elliott leads his team to 33-shot advantage in opening round of Golfweek Challenge Cup

When Gene Elliott was asked to captain a team of top senior amateurs for the Golfweek Senior Challenge Cup, he used his Iowa connections. Elliott, the top-ranked senior in the world, got 10 captain’s picks. He worked the phones to secure commitments.

“I had some Iowa guys and some of them came down and played,” he said. “It kind of got some guys playing that might not have played in this Golfweek event.”

Outside of the Iowa Cup, an in-state event that pits pros against amateurs, Elliott doesn’t have much experience as a captain. Regardless, Team Elliott was leading after the first day at PGA National and by 33 shots. Each team’s score is made up of the low 10 players’ scores on that team.

Leaderboard: Golfweek Challenge Cup

That left Ken Kinkopf, Golfweek’s 2019 Player of the Year, realizing he needed to stir up his squad for a second-round rally when the tournament switched from PGA National’s Champion course to the Fazio course for the second round.

“Narrow that gap tomorrow and close in on those guys on Team Elliott, hope to give it a good comeback tomorrow so that we can make a nice close match on the third,” he said.

Kinkopf doesn’t have much experience in this team format either. There are a handful of senior-amateur powerhouses in the Challenge Cup field, Kinkopf and Elliott among them. That list also includes reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion Bob Royak and former Senior Am champ Doug Hanzel.

“You just go down the list and you want to make sure you have half the top guys,” Kinkopf said of selecting his team.

Royak went to Elliott’s team while Kinkopf got Hanzel.

Kinkopf, 59, looked at the first-round leaderboard and knew he needed to make up a little ground on his opposing captain. Elliott, 58, fired an opening 68 for the lead in the senior division while Kinkopf posted an uncharacteristic 85.

The Golfweek Challenge Cup medal

Kinkopf has struggled with back pain recently, and has had three back surgeries. He said his back wasn’t the problem in the opening round, but admits that it’s an issue. It hardly seemed to cut into a banner year in 2019 when Kinkopf was winning almost everything.

“Somehow I played well enough last year to become a ranked player,” he said. “I came out of nowhere to win one event and then I won six.”

Because of his play last year, Kinkopf would have been eligible for the U.S. Senior Amateur and the Canadian Senior Amateur in 2020, two of the marquee senior events on the calendar.

As for Elliott, even though he’s miles away from his Des Moines, Iowa, it still feels like a home game because he has a residence near PGA National.

For Elliott, COVID cancellations on the national senior amateur calendar meant more time at home in the Midwest. He played more golf with his wife Dalena at Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines.

“It’s been a funny year and with the U.S. Senior Am and all that stuff getting canceled was just too bad,” Elliott said. “Hopefully we can just take off in 2021 and a lot of the tournaments will happen and they’ll figure this thing out and we can get back to normal senior golf.”

The calendar may look anything but normal, but Elliott’s game – and his position at the top – doesn’t look any different at all.

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