That’s because Augusta’s Tripp Kuhlke, who played a limited schedule this season, plans to play a full one in 2013.
The 56-year-old Hurt – who didn’t take up golf until he was 32– wrapped up his first player of the year title on Sunday at the Gordon Lakes Ping Regions Invitational, the season-ending event of the nine-tournament series.
Hurt, who finished 13th but still won the player of the year title by 41 points over Frank Perry, watched as Kuhlke won his third senior event in as many starts. They all came in August, in the final three events of the season.
“I’m glad he waited until the end of the year to show up,” Hurt said of Kuhlke, who dominated in his three victories.
In the latest victory at Gordon Lakes Golf Course, Kuhlke shot 70-70–140 to win by eight shots over Billy Rangos (76-72).
In the regular division, defending champion Brad Davis, a former Evans resident who now lives in Athens, Ga., rallied from six shots back to edge first-round leader Lance Johnson by a shot.
Kuhlke, meanwhile, was a wire-to-wire winner in the 50-over division. He led by two shots after the first round.
“I feel good about it,” the 52-year-old Kuhlke said of his unbeaten streak. “I’ve just been able to play good. I enjoy being out here with these guys. It’s a good atmosphere and good golf courses.”
In his senior debut in early August at the Orville White Cup, Kuhlke shot 72-68 to win by three. A week ago, at Jones Creek, shot shot 72-71 to win by six.
He shot 2-under 142 at the Orville White Cup, 1-under at Jones Creek and 4-under at Gordon Lakes. He’s yet to shoot a round over par.
“The days of shooting 73 and 74 and winning golf tournaments is no longer the case,” said Kenny Larry, who has a record 20 senior division titles and finished third at Gordon Lakes after 72-77. “As I told Tripp, it should make us all step our game up. It’s going to make me get out there and practice. I welcome the challenge.”
“If he decides to play a full schedule, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” Hurt said of Kuhlke, who plans to do exactly that next season.
“I’ll be there,” Kuhlke said.
Even with just three starts, Kuhlke finished fourth in the senior player of the year race, which rewards points for top 20 finishes, with 75 points going to the winner.
Hurt, who played in all nine events and won the Augusta City Amateur, finished with 285 points. Perry had 244, Jeff Roberts had 228 and Kuhlke 225.
Larry, who had won four of the past five player of the year titles, finished fifth with 210 points.
North Augusta’s Jeff Pope, who didn’t play this week, easily won the regular division player of the year title with 450 points.
Hurt entered the Gordon Lakes tournament with a 51-point lead over Perry, who shot 75-78 to finish seventh and earn 18 points. Hurt picked up eight points for his 13th-place finish (75-84).
It was the only event of the season that Hurt did not finish in the top 10.
“It’s kind of weird to have your worst round of the year on the same day you clinch it (player of the year),” Hurt said. “But with the depth in the senior division, winning the player of the year title, that’s quite an accomplishment.”
In the regular division, Davis closed with the day’s low round in the division – 72 – to finish at 5-over 149 after opening with 77.
Johnson, who opened with 71, shot 79 with a birdie on the final hole and finished at 150.
“I wasn’t quite expecting that,” Davis said. “I was hopeful for a second- or third place finish. Even (par) is a good score, but I certainly didn’t think I was going to win.”
Davis finished strong with birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 18 to go with a par on No. 16 and bogey on No. 17.
“I finally made some putts today,” said Davis.