Cliff Cunningham was first an electronic technician for AT&T and, second, a good local golfer through most of his amateur days in the Charlotte area.
Cunningham began playing in state senior events when he became eligible in 1990. His golf resume did not sizzle until 1997, when he won the USGA Senior Amateur championship at the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y. His senior career popped when he won his first North Carolina Senior Amateur championship in 1994.
But for four years, Cunningham wondered if he had the talent to play senior golf at the state level. He resolved those doubts by beating a solid field in the North Carolina Senior at Rolling Hills Country Club near his home in Monroe, N.C. He followed that a year later with a playoff victory in the same event, again at Rolling Hills. He shrugged off being labeled a one-course victor by winning the title again in 1996 at Wilson Country Club, again in a playoff. He followed with titles in 2001 and 2002 at Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro and at Raintree Country Club in Charlotte.
His USGA experience was unique. At that time, he had won four state crowns; and he went to New York playing well. He had failed to qualify for match play in two previous USGA Seniors, and that became his goal in 1997. “I thought I might even win a match or two,” he recalled. “But I liked the course, and my putting was the best in had been in some time. The longer I played, the better I played.” Cunningham needed two extra holes to win his quarterfinal match, even though he was three holes up with only four to play. He was under par in his semifinal 5 and 3 victory, and his final-match margin also was 5 and 3.
Cunningham is part owner of Eagle Chase Golf Club in Marshville, NC.
Cliff Cunningham was inducted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame in 2002.