U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Open Champ, MLB All-Star Among First-Timers at Del Paso June 25, 2015 | Sacramento, Calif. By Bill Fields

Skip Kendall is one of 14 players in the U.S. Senior Open who earned spots in the field the first year that they were eligible. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

A couple of them are Champions Tour regulars. Others are familiar names who had long professional playing careers before stepping away. Some rarely compete. One is a former Major League Baseball All-Star.

Fifty-four competitors are playing in their first U.S. Senior Open, but a smaller group of 50-year-olds share a common thread: making the field the first year they were eligible. 

Fourteen golfers are in this category: Guy Boros, Dave Bunker, Mike Finster, Erik Hanson, Eduardo Herrera, Lee Janzen, Skip Kendall, Brad Lardon, Jim McGovern, Geoffrey Sisk, Brent Studer, Mike Tucker, Grant Waite and Brian Wilson.

As Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open champion who turned 50 last August, knows, someone new always seems to be approaching their 50th birthday.

“I got to be the youngest guy in the field on the Champions Tour for one week, and Guy Boros and Skip Kendall started playing a week after that,” Janzen said. “One week is all I got. I’m sure there’s a few guys that are a little bit younger than me here this week.”

In fact, only two of the 50-year-olds are older than Janzen: Waite and Wilson. Finster, an amateur from St. Petersburg, Fla., didn’t turn 50 until June 17, five days before the cutoff.

“My wife said, ‘Honey, it’s time to get off the couch and get in the game,’” said Finster, who works for a roofing manufacturer. “I put in my entry, then birdied three of the last four holes to qualify. I’m in the field with guys I’ve idolized. I want to try to be the low guy in my group, then make it to the weekend and see if Cinderella is still at the ball.”

Herrera, who hasn’t “played in front of a crowd” in about five years, was also coaxed into playing – by fellow Colombian golfers that he coaches. “They said, ‘You practice with us, train with us, why don’t you go play?’” said Herrera, who spent most of his career on the Japan Golf Tour, where he won five times, and played in three British Opens.

Tucker is the head professional at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 2004 U.S. Senior Open and 2013 Senior PGA Championship. He also has been inside the ropes as an official. “I’ve seen these things from an administrative point of view, but never played in a major,” Tucker said. “My brother, Jerry, has played in 18, so I’ve only got 17 to go to catch him. I was tickled to get through the qualifier and want to enjoy the week.”

That’s the same mantra for McGovern. He played on the PGA Tour for two decades with a victory in the 1993 Shell Houston Open, but is happy as head professional at White Beeches Golf & Country Club in Haworth, N.J.

“It’s a pleasure to be out here for a week and see some old faces, but I don’t really miss it,” McGovern said of the Tour life. “I like going home at night. When I was last out on the Tour, I was lonely and the travel was bothering me.”

Hanson, who pitched in the big leagues for four different teams in 11 years, including an All-Star appearance with the 1995 Red Sox, competes regularly in amateur events in the Pacific Northwest.

For the last couple of years, Sisk, a pro for a quarter-century, has been playing in state opens and mini-tours to try to keep his game sharp for a senior career. He earned a provisional exemption at Champions Tour Qualifying School last year, but hasn’t been able to get into a tournament through weekly qualifying yet.

This will be the Champions Tour debut for the seven-time U.S. Open participant, who last competed in the championship at Merion in 2013.

“I haven’t gotten in an event before this, but I’ve been progressing,” Sisk said. “I have wonderful support from my wife and children, and want to give it a shot.”

No stranger to competition, Sisk was surprised when he saw Del Paso.

“I thought since we’re 50 and over, they might cut us a break even though it’s an Open, make it a little shorter and the rough not so tough,” Sisk said. “I was wrong. But what a great golf course this is.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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