EDMOND, Okla. – Marco Dawson has been one of the ultimate grinders in professional golf during a career that began in 1986. Perhaps that’s why he has performed his best in the toughest events in his rookie season on the Champions Tour.
A journeyman who won only once on the Web.com Tour and never hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, Dawson birdied his final three holes and opened the 35th U.S. Senior Open with a fine 5-under-par 66 at Oak Tree National. Of course, the way his career has gone, that burst of brilliance did not result in the first-round lead: Senior PGA champion Colin Montgomerie submitted a 65, stealing Dawson’s thunder.
But, hey, when you get a few lightning strikes at the end of your round, you’re not inclined to complain.
It just seemed to happen, you know, birdie, birdie, birdie the last three holes so I ended up 5-under, Dawson said with a shrug, a white towel draped around his shoulders. I could have, you know, shot 2-under and it still would have been a good round.
A non-exempt player after failing to advance through Champions Tour Q-School, Dawson has competed in six events this year, thanks mainly to three successful runs through Monday qualifying. He caught a break when he gained entry to the field as an alternate at the year’s first major, the Regions Tradition, where he finished tied for ninth. That earned him a spot in the Senior PGA Championship, and he responded with another tie for ninth that included a third-round 64.
In his last start, at the Constellation Senior Players Championship, Dawson ended up tied for 15th after posting three of four rounds in the 60s.
When you're driving the ball well, it doesn't matter really where you play, said Dawson, 50, who was an alternate out of the Jacksonville sectional qualifier but eventually earned a spot at Oak Tree. You just look out there and you pick a spot and you hit it there, and that's what I'm doing nowadays. It's fun to play like that when you're in the fairway all the time. … You're always going to be on the offensive when you're driving the ball in the fairway.
This would make sense – if Dawson had actually driven it well on Thursday. But on a blustery morning, he leaned on his putter, not his driver, needing only 25 putts on the slick Oak Tree National greens. Meanwhile, he hit only four of 14 fairways.
Three of the 12 greens he hit in regulation were on his final three holes, Nos. 7-9. He buried a 30-footer at the eighth between two birdie putts of no more than 2 feet.
Dawson’s best finish on the PGA Tour was second place at the 1995 Greater Milwaukee Open. His lone victory came at the 2002 LaSalle Bank Open on the Web.com Tour. A college teammate of Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate at Florida Southern, Dawson said he has not been in contention in a tournament since the 2012 McGladrey Classic, when he led after an opening 62.
He ended up in 68th place, and he will tell you that 72 holes against young guys is no easy challenge. By the same token, the Lakeland, Fla., resident is now one of the youngsters on the Champions Tour, a fact he was eager to point out in explaining further his success in senior majors, which are four rounds instead of three.
Might be the four rounds. I know, I hate to say it but a lot of these guys get tired because of their age, Dawson said. They get tired after three rounds, you know, especially after a practice round and all the walking. So, being that I'm 50, I guess I'm the rookie out here. I've been walking for the last 20 years on the regular Tour and I've been trying to stay in shape.
You know, the first couple of events it was kind of like stepping into time for me when I first came out, all these same guys were out here playing the regular tour when I was a rookie out there so it was nice to see those same faces. Those guys were, you know, great players then, and it's just too bad that they … have to get old.
Sure, time might finally be on Marco Dawson’s side. And three more rounds in the high heat of Central Oklahoma can only be to his advantage, too.
Oh, and one other factor that might be in his favor: he’s a native of Freising, Germany. In case you haven’t noticed, German athletes have been on a roll this summer.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work previously has appeared on USGA websites.