Toledo, Ohio – Winning a major championship is a difficult proposition. Winning a senior major championship isn’t much easier, even for players who captured one of golf’s grand slam tournaments before turning 50 years old.
You would think because we’ve done it at least once we’d be able to duplicate that kind of play out here, says former U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson. But the same rules apply. You have to play really well, and you have to beat a lot of really good players.
Simpson, 55, who won his national championship in 1987 at The Olympic Club, is among a handful of players in contention midway through the 32nd U.S. Senior Open who are in the majors club on the PGA Tour but haven’t yet duplicated the feat on the Champions Tour.
That group also includes 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, 1989 British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia, and Nick Price, who won two PGA Championships and a British Open.
Calcavecchia, second last week after being overtaken by Russ Cochran at the Senior British Open, has jumped right back on the horse with a bogey-free 67 Friday at Inverness Club that puts him two strokes behind leader Olin Browne at 7-under 135. Pavin added a 69 to his opening 68 for 137, while Price also shot 69 for 139. Simpson carded his second straight 70 for 140, 2 under par.
Playing well for a second straight week was easy for Calcavecchia, 51, to explain. It kind of goes along with confidence, he said. I knew I played pretty good last week for the most part. I flew here, and then I played 18 on Tuesday and hit a lot of good shots, then I just took Wednesday off. So I knew I was playing pretty good.
So has Pavin, who like Calcavecchia joined the Champions Tour in 2010 but hasn’t yet broken through with a win anywhere on the senior circuit despite numerous chances. This year, the 51-year-old Texan has finished eighth or better in his last four starts and has posted six top-10s on 10 events.
I'd come out here and, not that I expect to win, but I was certainly hoping to have won by now, said the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup captain. It's a little frustrating in that regard. But I've played well. I've played well enough to win a couple tournaments and someone's just beaten me, so in that respect I don't feel so badly.
Price is 54, but he is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open because he usually takes the summer off to spend more time with his family. A win this week, he said, is important, even if slightly less significant from an historical standpoint.
It's not the same (as a major championship on the regular tour). I'm not going to kid anyone about it, but for us it's one of our majors, he said. The way I've played this year, if I could win a major, perhaps two in another Tour event, then I have a chance to get Player of the Year. That's always something that's important to us, then the Schwab Cup because of the points, the doubles in the majors, I'd like to play well in this one, and TPC, the last one.
One of the game’s fiercest competitors and finest shotmakers, Price has tried to be less intense on the Champions Tour and have more fun. But it’s not fun if you don’t play well. And big events like the U.S. Senior Open are the most meaningful of the year. I don’t grind like I used to, but when you play in a national championship, that gets you motivated, he said. This is one event you want to add to your resume.
There is a bit of urgency to the quest, too. A top-level player might have 20 or more years to win majors. Once he turns 50, the window is much shorter, maybe five or 10 years where winning is possible.
Simpson feels it. This is his last exempt year into the Senior Open from his ’87 U.S. Open triumph. A good finish would be a huge deal, he said. I want to keep playing in this championship, at least until I’m 60. Winning, of course, would be even better.
I just feel like it's a matter of time, Pavin said of his prospects, but when you get to our age, time is important. It's of the essence.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.