U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Woosnam Working On Having Fun August 9, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Ian Woosnam is still competing, 25 years after his Masters victory, and is focused on enjoying the ride. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

U.S. Senior Open Home

It’s hot this week in Columbus, and the 50-and-older players in the U.S. Senior Open field are facing not only a supremely daunting test in Scioto Country Club, but the demands of 72 holes over four days of competition – not the 54-hole, no-cut event that they are accustomed to on the PGA Tour Champions.

Bring it on, says Ian Woosnam.

Woosnam is not among the younger players in this 156-man field. He turned 58 in March, and he is working through some adjustments to his putting stroke. But the 1991 Masters champion appreciates what Scioto requires.

“I think I’d rather have this every single week,” said Woosnam of the examination that the Senior Open provides. “The course setup, the small greens, the great design – it reminds me a lot of Oak Hill [three-time U.S. Open and PGA Championship host course in Rochester, N.Y., also designed by Donald Ross]. It makes the best players come to the top – it’s not just a putting competition.”

Putting has been a bit of a struggle recently for Woosnam, who was affected by the ban on anchored strokes that began in January 2016.

“Since the ruling, I’ve been using the little [putter] most of the year,” said the 5-foot, 4½-inch Woosnam. “But I’ve switched back to the long one and I’m still trying to get used to it. It’s starting to come around.”

Woosnam won 28 times on the PGA European Tour, finishing in the top 10 of the Order of Merit 13 times in 16 years from 1982 to 1997, and topping that list twice, in 1987 and 1990. But his career highlight came 25 years ago, in April 1991, when he holed an 8-foot par putt on the final hole at Augusta National to edge Jose Maria Olazabal for the green jacket.

Woosnam was part of the so-called Big Five of European golf in the late 1980s and 1990s, all of whom won majors and helped spur a resurgence in Europe’s competitiveness in the biennial Ryder Cup. All five – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Woosnam – were born within a year of each other, between April 1957 (Ballesteros) and March 1958 (Woosnam).

“I was sort of the last of those guys, the youngest of the bunch,” said Woosnam, who was also the last to bag a major championship, having finished tied for second in the 1989 U.S. Open behind Curtis Strange and tied for third (with Langer and Faldo) in the 1986 Open Championship behind Greg Norman. “It was nice to get in there with a major, to catch up a bit. In the 80s and early 90s, we had some really good fun playing against each other.”

Woosnam also played in eight consecutive Ryder Cups. He compiled a 14-12-5 record (including 10-3-1 in four-ball matches) and captained the winning 2006 European side.

“With everything that’s put into the Ryder Cup now, it’s exciting,” said Woosnam, who was No. 1 in the world for 50 weeks between April 1991-March 1992. “I think it’s great for golf – we don’t have that many match-play tournaments, so may it continue.”

The 2016 event is slated for Hazeltine National from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, and the jockeying has been underway for some time to earn places on the competing sides.

“All the guys in the States want to be on that team, and I think that’s why some of them are struggling a little bit,” said Woosnam. “They’re playing like guys with a lot of weight on their shoulders, and they need to sit back and relax a little bit and enjoy the moment.”

Woosnam announced after playing in the Masters in April that he would not return as a competitor, citing a spinal condition known as ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that causes vertebrae in the spine to lose their flexibility.

“I can’t play with all the slopes here,” Woosnam said of Augusta National at the time. “It’s just too tough for me.”

As Woosnam plots his strategy for Scioto, he acknowledges the physical nature of the test.

“It’s going to be very hot this week, so you’ve got to pace yourself a bit,” said Woosnam. “In most of the other tournaments we play, the fairways are pretty generous, the rough’s pretty generous – it’s just a shootout. This is more about patience. You’ve got to get the ball in the right positions and try to give yourself a chance going into the last nine holes.”

Having won five times on the European Senior Tour, Woosnam captured his first PGA Tour Champions title in May 2015, beating Tom Lehman and Kenny Perry in a playoff at the Insperity Invitational. Having played in three U.S. Senior Opens, with his best finish a tie for 22nd in 2009, Woosnam said he is focused this week on fun, not results.

“I’m starting to enjoy it a little bit more,” he said. “Golf’s about me enjoying it, not about how well I do.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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