U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Final Observations: Tradition and Triumph at Scioto August 15, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Dave Shedloski


 

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Scioto Country Club prides itself on its grand tradition of hosting big events, even if they have been few and far between. And it was tradition that reigned on a warm and soft afternoon Monday as the 37th U.S. Senior Open came to a dramatic, if delayed, conclusion.

Gene Sauers, who overcame a near-fatal illness five years ago to win his first USGA championship and first tournament of any kind in 14 years, wasn’t just a sentimental favorite. When he sank his 5-foot par save on the 72nd hole to beat hard-luck contender Miguel Angel Jimenez, he maintained one of the club’s notable streaks.

Since Bob Jones defeated Joe Turnesa by one stroke to win the 1926 U.S. Open, Americans have had a run of the joint. The U.S. team won the 1931 Ryder Cup and then what followed next were victories by Chandler Harper (1950 PGA Championship), Bruce Fleisher (1968 U.S. Amateur) and Dale Douglass (1986 U.S. Senior Open). And now there is Sauers, 53, a soft-spoken, homespun piece of Americana who planned to celebrate with supper at Burger King. A native of Savannah, Ga., his win, after shooting a 1-under 69 and 277 total, seemed appropriate given that he called Jack Nicklaus his mentor.

“He’s my idol,” Sauers said of the Golden Bear, who grew up honing his game at Scioto. “I learned the game reading his book ‘Golf My Way.’ So that’s why he’s kind of my mentor. He is for all of us pros.”

Frankly, Jimenez, a native of Spain, never had a chance against Scioto’s Star-Spangled mystique. After taking a one-stroke lead with a birdie on the 15th hole, he found greenside bunkers on each of the last three holes and only saved par once, at 16.

“It’s golf,” he said simply.

Indeed. Golf at Scioto, where not only do Americans flourish, but they do so by the thinnest of margins. In the four USGA stroke-play events at the Donald Ross-designed layout, all four winners triumphed by one shot.

Hey, tradition.

Streaks tend to perpetuate at this grand venue. Jimenez registered his sixth straight top-4 finish, all without a win, and, unfortunately, had to settle for the silver medal after letting slip the final-round lead in his third straight start.

Meanwhile, Bernhard Langer, the 2010 champion, was a logical choice for making a run at Jimenez from back of the pack after improving his scores each day. He was unlikely to dance a shimmy on the 14th green. Incredibly, only the latter occurred. The German abandoned his trademark stoicism after he sank a 15-footer for birdie when he had missed a handful of makeable putts earlier in the round. His 1-over 71 left him at 3-over 283, tied for 11th. He finished in the top-15 in his 30thth straight senior major.

Rain and heat played a significant role in the 1926 championship, and we saw plenty of both this week. A memorable finish ensued in each, however, and who could argue that Sauers’ victory wasn’t one of the most memorable in the history of this championship.

It was a deserving conclusion for everyone involved in the championship after the maddening weather delays. Golf had to take a 45-hour siesta between the last shot struck on Saturday and the first finally launched by Doug Garwood at 11:30 a.m. EDT Monday.

The course was vulnerable from nearly three inches of precipitation, and players, even the over-50 variety, still know how to score. After 24 rounds under par the first three days, 19 players bettered par on Monday. And yet, Scioto held up, allowing nothing lower than the 66s shot by Tom Lehman and Michael Bradley the last day, tied for championship best with Vijay Singh and Joey Sindelar.

Thirty years had passed since Scioto last hosted a championship, the U.S. Senior Open in 1986. Matt Sawicki, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Senior Open, predicted in the weeks leading up to this championship, “I think the theme we’ll hear all week from the players is, ‘It’s been 30 years since we were last here, what took you so long?’ ”

And so it came to pass.

“Better not [take another 30 years],” said Sindelar, the Ohio State University graduate who gave local fans a thrill when he grabbed the second-round lead. “I'm not sure the members want to give up this beautiful place that many times. They'd be nuts if they did.”

Who knows when another championship will visit Scioto Country Club. But it will happen. It is, after all, tradition.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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