EDMOND, Okla. – Having finally broken through for his first victory in the U.S. at the Senior PGA Championship in May, Colin Montgomerie has discovered a new confidence heading into this week's U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.
The Scotsman, who won a record 31 times and eight Orders of Merit on the European Tour, weathered years of disappointment in America, including several chances to win major championships. Montgomerie, 51, finished second in major championships five times, including a runner-up finish in three U.S. Opens: 1994, '97 and 2006. In all, he competed in 138 PGA Tour events without a victory.
Montgomerie was finally able to slay some demons, however, when he held off Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson at Harbor Shores to capture the Senior PGA.
"There is winning and there is just scraping home by a couple of bogeys in the last couple of holes to win by one sort of thing," Montgomerie said. "No, it wasn't like that. It really felt like it was when I was playing in the '90s when I was No. 2 in the world. It was exciting to feel that I was playing that way again and I can still play that way again."
Montgomerie's record in the U.S. Open includes not only three silver medals, but six other top-25 finishes. So he knows his game is built for the kind of test he faces this week at Oak Tree National. As added incentive, only four men have won the Senior PGA and the U.S. Senior Open in the same year: Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Gary Player and Roger Chapman. All but Chapman are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
So is Montgomerie, who was inducted in 2013.
"You spring out some names there and obviously to win major championships is very difficult. It doesn't matter whether you're senior or a junior at the same time. So I just look forward to trying to emulate those great champions if possible," said Montgomerie, who finished tied for 30th in his U.S. Senior Open debut at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club last year. "But at the same time it's difficult. And it should be difficult. I'm looking forward to the difficulty of it. This is a difficult golf course against difficult competition in difficult conditions."
Oak Tree Member Walcher First off the Tee
Rocky Walcher, 52, lives in Oklahoma City and plays out of Oak Tree National. And on Thursday morning at 7:15, he will strike the first tee shot of the championship off hole No 1.
It’s an honor to be here, said Walcher on Wednesday as he hit some final practice shots. I rejoined here about three years ago and everyone’s been nice to me here for many, many years. I will try to represent them well.
Walcher is an Oklahoma native, having grown up in Carnegie and played at Southwestern Oklahoma State. After college, he played on the Web.com Tour for more than 10 years, winning once, and played two years on the PGA Tour, in 1994 and 2001. This is his first U.S. Senior Open; he qualified by shooting 68 in a sectional at Aledo, Texas on June 23.
As soon as I found out they were having the Senior Open here, it was a goal of mine to get here, said Walcher, who works four days a week at Edward Jones in Woodward and tries to play three times a week .I tried to qualify for this at age 50 and 51. I work a real job, so it’s hard, but I feel like I’ve been playing a little bit better this summer.
Along with his years of tour experience, Walcher won the Oklahoma Open in 2004 and 2007. But he expects a bit of nerves on the first tee Thursday morning, when he begins play with Ron Vlosich and amateur Bryan Norton.
I’m going to try to shake it off and get through it, he said. I’m trying not to have any expectations. In the old days, I would be putting a lot of pressure on myself to play good, but I’m just going to take it as it comes. I’ve played out here so many times, I know what to do. I just have to do it.
Another thing Walcher has to do is come up with tickets for family and friends. When asked if he had a large family, he chuckled.
It’s growing all the time, he said. I’ve got a lot of support, some of it from people I haven’t seen in a long time. But it’s a good thing. We needed to talk anyway.
Verplank Celebrates Significant Birthday
It’s always nice to celebrate a birthday by playing golf on your home course. That’s exactly what Scott Verplank is doing at Oak Tree National this week, except this birthday is one that he will remember a little more than others. Verplank, a five-time PGA Tour winner who makes his home here, turned 50 on Wednesdaywhich makes him old enough to play in his first U.S. Senior Open on Thursday.
For professional golfers, turning 50 is also the minimum age to play on the Champions Tour. Verplank, who in addition to living at Oak Tree won the 1984 U.S. Amateur here, held out to the very end, competing in last week’s Greenbrier Classic on the PGA Tour. With the turning of the calendar, however, comes reality, and Verplank received another reminder this week that he is moving on to the next chapter of his life and career.
Last night I was sitting in my office opening mail because I had been gone all day, and there's a plain-looking envelope, and I open it up and it's an AARP membership application, and I went, oh, my gosh, he said on Tuesday. I kind of joke about that, but I was like, well, I guess it's real.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites. Ron Driscoll and Scott Lipsky of the USGA contributed.