Irwin Noncommittal After ‘Hard Week’ at The Broadmoor June 29, 2018 | Colorado Springs, Colo. By Dave Shedloski

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He tried hard on every shot, which is exactly what you would expect Hale Irwin to do. Which is why, on his 36th and final hole of this championship, after absorbing the ignominy of 14 bogeys and a double bogey over the previous 17 holes, Irwin summoned whatever stubbornness and shotmaking he had left, and played that final hole in four strokes.

One of golf’s quintessential U.S. Open players, Irwin carded a birdie on what might well be his final hole in a USGA championship. It was profoundly appropriate, but of little consolation as Irwin suffered through a disheartening 15-over-par 85 Friday morning in the second round of the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor.

“I really had nothing – and I mean nothing – going for me,” said the proud Missouri native, who grew up in the Centennial State, became a standout high school and college athlete here, and went on to win three U.S. Open titles and twice captured the U.S. Senior Open. “But I’ve never known what it’s like not to be competitive. I’ve never known what it’s like not to try your best. I don’t know what that is.”

So, he tried until the bitter end. And it added up to 85, the first time in 78 U.S. Senior Open rounds he failed to break 80. Having played just four times this year, and having just marked his 73rd birthday, Irwin’s score probably was not that surprising.

That didn’t mean he didn’t care about the result. He was both perturbed and philosophical about his two-day total of 164, 24 over par on the East Course at The Broadmoor, a place he has known since he was a high school golfer.

“This week was hard. I loved it, but it was hard,” he said.

The part he loved was catching up with high school and college friends. And there were the family moments. He saw all four of his grandchildren, and his grandson, Dillon, served as his caddie.

Tom Kite, the 1992 U.S. Open winner who still works hard at the game, remains in awe of Irwin, with whom he played this week.

“For as hard as he worked, and as long as he remained competitive, he’s the standard. Hale Irwin is the standard I think we all aspire to as we get older,” Kite said. “I’m not sure there is anyone who has ever remained competitive longer.”

Perhaps tellingly, Irwin began drawing on his PGA Tour pension a few years ago. So, he was aware that his expiration date as a competitive golfer was approaching. But he couldn’t bring himself to say that this was his final appearance in the U.S. Senior Open.

“I don’t know. The odds say yes. If I can help push the needle in the direction of good golf – not my golf, but junior golf, USGA golf, I’m happy to do that. And that might be where my goal is,” Irwin said. “I will have to sit back and assess just how much playing I am going to be doing. I just don’t know.”

Honored last month at the Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, Irwin shares a distinct competitive disposition with the event’s founder, Jack Nicklaus. Though intelligent and talented, it was Irwin’s white-hot intensity that enabled him to win 20 times on the PGA Tour and a record 45 titles in senior golf.

But he is well aware that he cannot go on – and he won’t allow himself to go on in this fashion. That doesn’t mean he’ll pack it in, but merely that he’ll direct his energies to other endeavors. He won’t allow the competitive flame to be extinguished. Irwin still designs golf courses. He sits on the board of a bank. He has charitable causes. He enjoys target shooting. And he has his family.

“My life isn’t really predicated on playing golf anymore,” he said. “It was always out in front of me, and now it’s back there. Way back there. Maybe I’ll just be the best grandfather I can be. I just want to be the best at whatever it is I’m doing. If you always try to contribute, then you’ll always be competitive.”

Which is exactly what you would expect Hale Irwin to do.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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