EDMOND, Okla. – After a brief visit with the media
following an opening-round 3-over 74 Thursday in the U.S. Senior Open, Willie
Wood exited stage left and quickly hustled across the green in the short-game
area at Oak Tree National.
“Yeah, I’ve hit a few chip shots on this green,” he
said with a grin. “My house is right over there." He pointed to a house that was
perhaps a strong 7-iron away. “This week has already been amazing,” he added.
“I want to play well, but for me, the fun is just having another big golf
tournament in our backyard.”
Yes, he said “our” backyard. Wood is a member of a
special group of players at Oak Tree National, a group of tour professionals better
known as the Oak Tree Gang.
Scott Verplank might be the most well known, with a
U.S. Amateur that he won here and five PGA Tour titles, plus appearances on
U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. Bob Tway won eight times on the PGA
Tour, including the 1986 PGA Championship. Then there’s Gil Morgan, who has a
combined 32 wins on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, plus Wood, Mark Hayes,
David Edwards and Doug Tewell, who have all won tour events.
Four of them – Verplank, Wood, Tway and Morgan – were
in the starting field for this U.S. Senior Open, and three of them made the
What drew them to Oak Tree National? Well, many
things, including the fact that all of them except Morgan attended Oklahoma
State. Morgan, though, fits in just fine, being a native of Wewoka, Okla.
“This club was founded by Oklahoma State golfers,
Joe Walser and Ernie Vossler. So this club has always been huge to the Oklahoma
State golf family,” said Verplank, a Dallas native who turned 50 on the eve of
the championship. “That's how I ended up here. I played golf at Oklahoma State,
and everyone that played the Tour from Oklahoma State … not everybody, but a
good number, moved down here, and they were great to us, and they still are.
You know, it's kind of the home away from home.”
“They've been so nice to us over the years, you
know, starting out with Landmark and Joe and Ernie,” said Morgan, 67, who beat
his younger counterparts in the opening round with a 1-over 72. “They've
treated us very special from that standpoint. You know, helped us with lots
early on. We built out here and did that type of thing. They were very good
with us about clothing and some representing the club early on and they just
been overly nice to all the Tour players and … kind of enjoyed having them
around so it was a nice place for us to live, very convenient to play and
practice. It's been fun, and we're very appreciative of all they've done for us
through the years.”
Morgan added that there was another clear reason
for the gang hanging around and that is the quality of the Pete Dye-designed
course that hosted the 1984 U.S. Amateur and 1988 PGA Championship, among other
“It's a very challenging golf course,” Morgan said.
“It helps your game when you're home to have the difficulty that it has here.
When you go back on Tour sometimes it seems a little bit more open or not so
demanding into the greens, that type of scenario. It's fun.”
Morgan, Tway and Wood were paired together for the
opening two rounds of the championship, while Verplank played in the group
ahead of them. The four drew large crowds, which included plenty of friends and
family, even though their games weren’t quite in tip-top shape.
Tway and Wood matched scorecards, opening 74-73-147
to make the 36-hole cut. Morgan also qualified for the weekend after a 76 left
him at 6-over 148. Still out of sorts after wrist surgery nearly two years ago,
Verplank posted 75-75-150 and missed the cut by a stroke.
“I don’t know what I’ll do this weekend. Maybe have
a pool party,” Verplank said, trying to find a sliver of joy after two
Wood was happy he had the chance to share the stage
with two longtime friends and playing partners. “I’d much rather play with
someone I've played with a lot and enjoy, than someone I may have just met or
someone I don't like.”
Tway felt the same, but he couldn’t hide the disappointment
on his face. He gave five strokes back to par over his final four holes on
Friday after reaching 3 under for his round. Nevertheless, that didn’t get in
the way of how delighted he was on behalf of his club.
“I'm just so pleased that it turned out to be in
the shape that it's in,” Tway said. “You know, a lot of people have worked
really, really hard. Everybody is very proud of this place. That's why we all
have continued to live here. We love it. Played a lot of golf here and had a
lot of good times here and will continue to do that. It's just a special
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer
whose work previously has appeared on USGA websites.