An Interview With Roger Chapman


Reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Roger Chapman of England is hoping to find the same success in Nebraska this July that he enjoyed in Michigan last summer. (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons)
By David Shefter
May 24, 2013

 

Last year, Roger Chapman of England joined some elite company when he claimed both the Senior PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open in the same year, winning both events in the state of Michigan. Chapman, who will defend his Senior Open title in July at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club, sat down with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter at Senior Open Media Day on May 6 to discuss his two Champions Tour major championships and other aspects of his golf career that now spans five decades.

Going into the 2012 Senior Open at Indianwood in Lake Orion, Mich., you were coming off a terrific win at the Senior PGA Championship, which also happened to be contested in Michigan. Was there something in the water or the food?

Chapman: I remember [NBC golf analyst] Gary Koch interviewed me after I won and asked what is it about Michigan, and I had seen the ads on TV about the state. So I just blurted out, ‘Pure Michigan.’ And the whole crowd went crazy. It’s just weird to have two senior majors in one state in the same year. I can’t wait to get back to Michigan. We’re going back to Harbor Shores [in 2014] for the U.S. PGA [Seniors].

You entered the final round at Indianwood four strokes back of 54-hole leader and 2011 champion Bernhard Langer. How did you manage to pull off the comeback?

Chapman: It was probably the best round of golf that I had played under that kind of pressure. I was in the second-to-last group out and Bernhard was behind me. I birdied the second and he double-bogeyed the second. All of a sudden that four-shot lead had gone to one. My eyes lit up. And I am sure everyone else’s eyes lit up because it was “game on” then.

Did winning the Senior PGA Championship two months earlier pay dividends?

Chapman: I felt so much more confident that I was going to close the deal. After I birdied 14, I stood on the 15th tee and said I was going to win this thing. That’s the difference between [my mindset at] Harbor Shores [during the Senior PGA] and Indianwood [for the Senior Open]. But I didn’t know it was going to come so quick after Harbor Shores. Again, I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder. To win one six weeks later is fairytale stuff.

There were other guys charging as well. Corey Pavin birdied three consecutive holes midway on the second nine. Did you feel pressure?

Chapman: Corey is like a little Jack Russell [terrier]. He just gets a bone and will not let it go. He birdied 13, 14 and 15 and then made a great par on 16 and I bogeyed 16. So all of a sudden, my lead was one.

 But then you hit that 5-iron shot on 17 to seal the deal. Take us through that incredible shot.

Chapman: [Pavin] hit a really good shot into 17 to about 15 feet [below the hole]. So he put the pressure on me again. I was just fortunate to hit a 5-iron [from 202 yards] to 6 inches. There was a little rise to the back tier and it just pitched in perfect. Corey just missed his two and I tapped in for two, and all of a sudden I’m going down to the last [hole] with a two-shot lead.

NBC lead golf analyst Johnny Miller offered some nice commentary about your 5-iron shot on 17.

Chapman: I saw later on the TV because my boys had recorded that Johnny Miller was waxing lyric about it. ‘That was the best shot I’ve seen in 20 years,’ he said. It was a shot of a lifetime for me.

I know you shot 66 in the final round, but you had three consecutive 68s leading into Sunday, so the course must have suited your game.

Chapman: It had a Scottish, linksy feel to it. You take all the trees around the outside of it, their humps, hillocks and wispy grass and a bit of wind. It was a great golf course.

Coming off those two major wins, were you disappointed about having to withdraw from the British Senior Open with a neck injury?

Chapman: I was feeling quite good about making it three in a row, which only one person had done that, and that’s Gary Player. I was really disappointed for that to happen.

By winning the Senior PGA and U.S. Senior Open in the same year, you joined some very select company, including greats Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin. How does that make you feel?

Chapman: I didn’t know it until somebody told me. To be linked with those three guys is just a huge honor for me. I respect of what they have done for the game of golf over the years. I was with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus [at the Insperity Championship in early May]. They were doing the legends in Houston and my wife and I walked out and watched them play. The competitive edge is still burning inside them. And watching [Arnold] Palmer play [with them] was just fantastic.

Do you feel differently now that you are a two-time major champion on the senior circuit?

Chapman: When I walk in our local town, Ascot, [England], people say well done. The European Tour made me an honorary life member. I think there are only about 45 or 46 of us in that group. The periphery stuff is just magnificent. I went to the Masters for the first time [in April]. The Golf Writers [Association of America] voted me Champions Tour Player of the Year, so I picked up an award there. It makes you feel like you’ve done something special.

Can you rate your performance so far in 2013?

Chapman: I would say average. I have had one top 10 and three top 20s. I have been struggling with the driver a bit these past couple of weeks, so I’ve got to put some hard work in to sort that out and come out fighting for the U.S. PGA [Seniors] at Bellerive in a couple of weeks time. I had a quick putting lesson with Dave Stockton in Houston, and he gave me a couple of pointers, so hopefully in six weeks time, I will be raring to go [here at Omaha C.C.].

Your Senior Open victory comes with a U.S. Open exemption. With Merion playing just under 7,000 yards, will that give you a chance to compete?

Chapman: I spoke to [fellow Englishman] Ian Poulter, who played it [in late April] and he said it’s going to be tough. He was talking that maybe par or maybe one over par might win. They’re going to toughen it up because it is short. They’re going to bring the fairways in and going to make the rough thick. It’s not going to be easy.

You played 20-plus years on the European Tour and finished in the top 100 in the Order of Merit from 1982-2002, but it took you 472 starts to get your one and only victory in 2000 at the Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open. Why did it take so long?

Chapman: It was difficult. Some [tournament wins] had been taken away from me [by others playing well]. I had six seconds on the European Tour. I remember one in Morocco [in 1997] where Clinton Whitelaw finished birdie-eagle-par to beat me. So things like that happen. And sometimes I backed out of them. And then to finally do it – in Rio of all places – it was probably the greatest feeling you get, to win on the European Tour. That sort of got the monkey off my back.

Did you come from behind in the final round?

Chapman: I was five behind Padraig Harrington. I think I shot 65 in the final round and got to 19 under. He made par at the last to go into a playoff. Then I knocked it in the water on the first playoff hole. I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ But he three-putted from about 50 feet. We went back to play the 18th [hole] again and he dumped it in the water. I thought this is mine now.

Before turning 50 and playing senior events, you spent time as a European Tour Rules official. How did you end up making that transition?

Chapman: I quit the main tour when I was 46 because I was pretty fed up playing sort of catch-up golf. I was playing against [young kids] that were just bombing it past me. It’s frustrating. So I quit the main tour, knowing that I wanted to play senior golf. And then the [European] Tour came up to me and asked if I wanted to [serve] as a Rules official. So I did 18 months on the European Senior Tour and I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed course setup. I did the tees and the [hole locations]. It was a way of making it tough on the boys. The hard part was sitting on a buggy and watching your friends play from behind the ropes. They were long days. It was a good experience.

Did you see championship golf in a different light?

Chapman: I think all rookies on tour should actually go with a Rules official and see how much work they put in doing course setup. Spraying lateral hazards, water hazards, out of bounds, ground under repair … there’s a lot of work to be done before the player actually gets to the golf course. Everything is there and done for.

What’s it been like to be fully exempt on the Champions Tour, thanks to those two wins in 2012?

Chapman: It’s brilliant. I love every bit of it. All the players have been really good to me. Instead of saying, ‘Good morning Roger,’ they say, ‘Good morning champ.’ You go into the [equipment] trucks and there’s one guy in there that just calls me ‘major.’ It’s always, ‘Good morning major.’ Things like that are nice touches and you just feel part of the tour and not one of the sideshows.

When you first came out on the Champions Tour in 2011, did any of the guys recognize you?

Chapman: I played a lot of [British] Opens. So John Cook, Tom Watson … they had all come over to play in the Open Championship. I had met guys like Fred Couples. But I played 11 [Champions Tour] events in 2011 and sort of got to know the guys again. That experience in 2011 helped me feel more at home in 2012. Once I won the Senior PGA, I got a 12-month exemption, so I am part of the tour again. I just felt more comfortable.

How did you end up on the Champions Tour in 2011?

Chapman: I went to the Champions Tour [Qualifying] School in 2010. At the time, Keith Clearwater won and he was already exempt in another category. So I thought, and everybody else thought, that I had earned my card [by finishing in the top five]. So I went ahead and booked all my flights for 2011, thinking I was fully exempt. About a month and a half, my caddie came to me and said it’s not as good as you think. There were three guys with medical exemptions that slipped ahead of me and all of a sudden I am out of the fully exempt category. We had booked our flights, so we thought we would just come over and see how I’d do. I did Monday qualifying and by hook and crook, I got into 11 events. That was a good learning curve. But if you didn’t finish in the top 10 on Sunday, then you were racing around to play a course that you didn’t know, playing it blind [to qualify for the next event]. It’s much easier now.

You were born in Kenya. What brought your parents to Africa?

Chapman: Mum and dad got married in 1957 and my dad worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, so he got a posting in Kenya. I was born in 1959. We stayed there for about 18 months. Then dad got a job in Port Au Spain in Trinidad, so my brother was born there. We came back to Britain in the spring of 1964.

Did your parents play golf?

Chapman: My dad joined a golf club down in Kent and as a 10 year old, I used to go and caddie. I was always good at sport and had an eye for a ball. So one day I asked if I could play. He said, “there’s no future in it.” So I proved him wrong.

Did he see you play in big amateur events or on the European Tour?

Chapman: He was just so nervous. I remember playing in the final of the English Amateur in 1979 at Royal St. George’s in Kent. It was like 45 minutes from the house. I was there all day because it was a 36-hole final. He never came up to watch. He was fixing somebody else’s car. He just got so nervous. I think the first time he watched me as a pro was the 1991 [British] Open at Birkdale when [Ian] Baker-Finch won. Mum is fine. Dad was a nightmare.

Considering that you’ve won more events on the Champions Tour in three years than you did in 20-plus years on the European Tour, has life begun at 50?

Chapman: It’s like a fine wine. It’s taken a bit of time to mature. And when you actually pop the cork, it’s actually pretty good.

You look extremely fit. Do you have a physical regiment to stay in shape?

Chapman: That’s one of the things I did at the start of 2012. I was a bit overweight at Christmas. I lost 22 pounds and got fit. I had a personal trainer. And I think that helped me win the two majors.

Now there’s also a Roger Chapman who is an English guitar player. Any moments of mistaken identity?

Chapman: No, I’m not related to him. He was a member of The Family. That was the name of the band. One of the caddies on the European Senior Tour is always coming up to me and asking, ‘How’s The Family?’ I’ve had enough of that.

 

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