Doing The Three-Peat


By Ken Klavon, USGA
July 28, 2007

Kohler, Wis. - Curtis Strange would know about it. So would Tom Watson.

Both have won major championships in their career and understand the pressures that come with repeating. Between them, they've won nine majors. They also know that winning them wasn't easy. Or in other words, winning was about as effortless as trying to jump on a moving train. Easy, right?

So, they can relate to any anxiety, pressures or concerns Allen Doyle might feel as he attempts to win an unprecedented third consecutive Senior Open.

In the championship's 28-year history only two players - Miller Barber and Gary Player - have ever repeated. Strange, the last competitor to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, believes Doyle will have to block out more distractions this week than in the past two victories.

"It's really how well your game is coming in," said Strange, who is playing in his third Senior Open. "His game is suited for a U.S. Senior Open. He hits it straight, has a nice short game and he putts well.

"But there are other parts of the equation [associated with repeating]. There's the luck factor. You have to have a little luck. There's the tee time. There are outside distractions. You know, it's also about who gets upset the least out there. … So, it's big but it's not like a U.S. Open."

To add historical context, of the four current majors - the U.S. Amateur used to count - duplicating victory has been no easy feat. The PGA Championship has boasted five repeat winners, with Walter Hagen checking in four consecutive times. However, that was during a match-play era. Six players have repeated as champions in the U.S. Open with Willie Anderson winning three consecutive times in the early 1900s. The British Open, the longest-running major, has seen 15 repeat winners. And, the Masters has just three - Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

Is there some elusive, magical key associated with repeating?

Tom Watson, who won back-to-back titles in 1982-83 at the British Open, doesn't think so. He believes it comes down to the law of averages and how well you're playing. Watson associated a solid year with winning 20 percent of the tournaments.

"It's tough to defend," said Watson. "Look at how many times you win … You look at it that way basically what you do, you prepare your best, prepare your routines and hope you're playing well when you go into the event."

Watson, who finished second to Doyle last year, added he never felt any extra pressure going into a major as the defending champion. How come?

"Because, that's history," Watson said. "What you've won is history. It doesn't help in you winning the golf tournaments you're preparing to play in. Bottom line is that - the only time it helps you when you won a tournament is that if you play on the same course again, you remember."

The cagey Jim Thorpe, who never won a major but triumphed three times on the PGA Tour, threw in a third caveat. This week, The Straits could set up at 7,068 yards depending on the USGA. Last year, Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., played shorter, at 6,646 yards. Thorpe felt that shorter championship layouts benefit a player like Doyle more, although NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, set up at 7,000 yards.

"Prairie Dunes was a short go," said Thorpe. "That's why a guy like Allen Doyle wins. That's not taking anything away from Doyle because the man is accurate."

If Strange and Watson's opinions mean anything, then Doyle may have trouble pulling off the trifecta. Coming into the week, he stood 23 rdin Charles Schwab Cup points. In 14 starts, he has four top-10 finishes and no wins.

In last year's Senior Open, Doyle, 58, finished second in putting average (1.50) and fifth in fairways in regulation. The year before at NCR, he wound up seventh in putting and fifth in fairways hit.

Still, all this means nothing to Doyle because he takes pleasure in the underdog role. His swing was borne from playing hockey. Ugly. Tell him he can't do it, and he becomes hell-bent on disproving the naysayers.

"If you saw Allen swinging on the first tee," said Watson, "you would probably say, 'Well, I can give him five shots and beat him pretty easy.' But, you know, that isn't the case."

And the case hasn't been that the Senior Open has ever seen a three-peat winner. Of course, it's just enough incentive to push Doyle, pressure or no pressure.

"Certainly that adds to the challenge," said Doyle. "But, there's a reason that it hasn't been done - because it's damn hard to do.

"So I've tried to treat it as a normal event, but it's not and I know that. But, again, I'm going to try to use it as an opportunity to maybe do something that no one else has done, and it's going to be tough."

Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org.

 

 
Tom Watson takes his licks on the fifth green during a practice round Wednesday at Whistling Straits. (John Mummert/USGA)
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