U.S. SENIOR OPEN
U.S. Open Champions Seek Another Major Highlight June 28, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Lee Janzen said he is inspired by the challenge that the U.S. Senior Open and Salem Country Club present. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Open Home

There are five U.S. Open champions in the field for the 38th U.S. Senior Open, but Hale Irwin is the only one among them who has achieved what all of them most certainly want: to join the short list of players who have repeated their success in the 50-and-older championship.

“Just like with the U.S. Open, this is the tournament I’ve wanted to win the most,” said Tom Watson, who captured the 1982 U.S. Open among his eight major championships. “It’s the most important tournament out here.”

Watson is competing in his 16th U.S. Senior Open this week at Salem Country Club, and he shares the record of three runner-up finishes in this championship (2002, 2003 and 2006) with Fred Funk. Watson’s closest call was in 2002, when Don Pooley defeated him on the fifth playoff hole after they tied at 10-under-par 274. Watson, who has eight top-10s in the championship, finished tied for seventh as recently as 2015, when he led through 36 holes.

“I’ve missed out – I came close a few times out here,” said Watson, 67. “I just haven’t crossed the finish line ahead of everybody else. I feel a little like [four-time U.S. Open runner-up] Sam Snead.”

Seven players have captured the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, and all but one of the names (Orville Moody) are familiar to even the most casual of fans: Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin.

Does having won the U.S. Open give a player such as two-time champion Lee Janzen a better chance to duplicate the success he found in 1993 and 1998 at Baltusrol and The Olympic Club, respectively?

“I could joke and say that my chances are at least better than 156 to 1,” said Janzen, 52, who tied for fifth in his Senior Open debut in 2015. “Adversity always comes your way; there’s no way to avoid it. It’s how you respond to it that’s important, especially during a week like this.”

Janzen tied for sixth place last week at the PGA Tour Champions event in Madison, Wis., completing 54 holes in 10 under par. He doesn’t expect a birdie fest at Salem, and that suits him just fine.

“I would prefer a harder setup, regardless of what tour I was on,” said Janzen. “It benefits the guy who’s playing better. Even if my game wasn’t in a very good state, I still felt like I had better chance on a harder course.”
 

WINNERS OF THE U.S. OPEN AND U.S. SENIOR OPEN

 
Arnold Palmer (1960 Open, 1981 Senior Open)
Billy Casper (1959, 1966 Open; 1983 Senior Open)
Gary Player (1965 Open; 1987, 1988 Senior Open)
Orville Moody (1969 Open; 1989 Senior Open)
Lee Trevino (1968, 1971 Open; 1990 Senior Open)
Jack Nicklaus (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980 Open; 1991, 1993 Senior Open)
Hale Irwin (1974, 1979, 1990 Open; 1998, 2000 Senior Open)

Janzen struggled last season, particularly on the greens, as he slipped from 16th in 2015 to 54th on the PGA Tour Champions money list. He considers those issues behind him.

“All parts of my game have been slowly improving all year long,” said Janzen, who won eight times on the PGA Tour, including a Players Championship. “Last year, I was only making one or two birdies a round. That was it. I would have to hit it to kick-in distance or hit a par 5 in two to make a birdie. I’ve moved on from that.”

Corey Pavin, 57, captured his lone major championship in the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, capped by a memorable 4-wood approach shot on the 72nd hole. He has competed in seven Senior Opens, registering ties for seventh, second and third from 2011 to 2013. Like Janzen, he relishes the challenge of this championship.

“Unlike most of our events, this is 72 holes, which ramps up the test both physically and mentally,” said Pavin. “And this course is a perfect U.S. Senior Open setup. There’s a premium on hitting it in the fairway, and I think that kind of course suits me well.”

Tom Kite won 20 times on the PGA Tour, and his crowning achievement was his victory in the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a quarter-century ago. Kite, 67, has competed in 15 U.S. Senior Opens, with three third-place finishes. He led after the first round in 2012 before finishing in a tie for 12th.

“This golf course certainly has the feel of a U.S. Open,” said Kite. “I think it’s a beautiful test, although I would prefer it if it had the typical USGA-width fairways. They’re a little too wide, in my opinion.”

Unlike Janzen, for example, Kite felt as though he could thrive no matter what kind of test the course provided.

“I think I could be competitive either way,” said Kite. “I played easy golf courses well, like in the Bob Hope Classic, and hard golf course well, like Riviera, Doral, Butler National or Pebble Beach – when I’m playing the way I should play.”

For Janzen, it’s all about how he answers the bell, or in this case, the announcement of his name on the first tee.

“I want to be ready, but not too ready, or under-ready,” said Janzen. “There is a state that’s just right – that’s always the challenge for me, being prepared.”

Janzen carefully pondered a question about what winning a Senior Open would mean to him.

“All I can say is that I would like to play well and have a chance to win,” said Janzen. “Then if I did, I’d be able to describe what it meant. If I win, then I’ll have an answer.”

The lack of an answer itself spoke volumes.

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

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