U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Cancer Free, Roberts Appreciates His Return to U.S. Senior Open June 26, 2019 | South Bend, Ind. By Dave Shedloski

Loren Roberts appreciates being able to play in the U.S. Senior Open after missing last year's event due to cancer surgery. (USGA/Michael Reaves)

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Loren Roberts is enjoying his return to the U.S. Senior Open after a one-year hiatus. He just wishes he felt better.

Roberts, who shot a championship-record 62 in the 2006 edition at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., hadn’t missed the U.S. Senior Open since he tied for second at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, in 2005, his first year of eligibility. But after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer last February, Roberts had to sit one out. He was not happy about it.

He is, however, thrilled to be recovered from his cancer scare. He received a dreadful diagnosis after his annual PSA Test (Prostate-Specific Antigen Test) used to detect prostate cancer and other prostate abnormalities revealed the problem. A follow-up biopsy showed that it was an aggressive strain, so Roberts underwent surgery to have his prostate removed.

But for a player looking to regain his form, the cancer isn’t his biggest issue, although he’s experienced more fatigue since the surgery. The problem is he’s 64 with a bad back. To relieve the pain and pressure, he is working through swing changes.

“It’s the same thing Tiger Woods is trying to do, only he’s making it work and he’s a lot younger,” Roberts said wryly on the practice range at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, where the 40th U.S. Senior Open Championship begins Thursday. “When I do it right and stay on it, I hit some nice shots. I hit some really nice shots last week in Wisconsin [at the American Family Insurance Championship], but I didn’t score. And I’m not consistent with it yet.”

Sure, it’s a small problem compared to life-and-death battles with cancer, but Roberts is a competitor. “If you’re going to do something, you want to do it well,” he said. "In golf, you never stop trying to get better."

Nobody ever did it better than when he fired that 8-under 62 at Prairie Dunes, a round that, naturally, he is proud of. “Yeah, I hear that they went in and changed it after that because they figured if this guy could shoot 62, they need to toughen it up.”

Roberts, a California native who now lives outside Memphis, Tenn., has won 13 times on the PGA Tour Champions, including four majors, though he never captured the U.S. Senior Open despite finishing eighth or better in his first five tries. He also won eight times on the PGA Tour between 1994 and 2002, mainly on the strength of his putting, which earned him the nickname, “Boss of the Moss.”

But he joked last year that he seems to have lost his vaunted short game after being put under anesthesia for the surgery. “They put you out, and I was under for almost five hours, and I think when they put you under it almost kind of erases the tape,” he said, noting how when he began chipping and putting again he was fighting a case of the yips, which he never had before.

Roberts isn’t sure how much longer he can play competitively – or how much longer he wants to play. His oldest daughter, Alexandria, and her husband, Ron, are expecting their first child, Roberts’ first grandchild, in August. “I’m figuring that’s a sign to maybe start slowing it down,” he said. “Though I love the game. I have always loved the game.”

It has stopped loving him back, though.

He hasn’t had a top-10 finish since the 2016 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. He isn’t expecting one this week, admitting that his expectations aren’t particularly high. “If I made the cut, that would be nice,” he said.

Despite wishing his game was stronger, he has no complaints.

“I didn’t start playing the tour until I was, what, 25 … that’s long enough. Heck, I haven’t had a job for 40 years,” he said with a big smile. “What have I got to complain about?”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer whose work appears regularly on USGA digital channels.

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