U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Verplank, Battling Diabetes, Finishes Strong and Keeps His Spirits High
July 2, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass.
By Dave Shedloski
Scott Verplank endured a wild ride over his final 36 holes in the U.S. Senior Open Championship. It was a ride that he preferred to not take, and not just because his play wasn’t up to his standards.
Winner of the 1984 U.S. Amateur Championship, Verplank gladly took a seat in the clubhouse following a roller-coaster final-round 70 Sunday at hot and breezy Salem Country Club. He was wrung out from four exhausting days, but at least he was able to complete 72 holes.
At the behest of his doctors, Verplank requested and was granted the use of a golf cart by the USGA for the championship so he could manage the aching in his feet and other health issues connected to a near life-long battle with diabetes. Verplank had no choice but to ride along the rolling terrain of this Donald Ross-designed course. His caddie, Kevin Flewellin, still had to walk and carry Verplank’s clubs.
“I would rather not take a cart, but I also would rather not be dealing with all the things I’ve had to deal with for 44 years as a diabetic,” said Verplank, 52, who posted his first top-10 finish in the championship. “Even with the cart, I’m pretty exhausted. My feet are terrible. I’ve played a lot of golf recently. I’m not sure if I could have survived the week without it, but that’s what the accommodation is there for. It just helped level the playing for me a little bit, that’s all.”
After starting with consecutive rounds of 66, Verplank struggled with a third-round 73. On Sunday, he birdied three holes in a row in the middle of the inward nine to climb as high as fifth on the leader board, but he got tired again and couldn’t keep up his momentum, managing a tie for seventh place at 5-under 275.
He was not at all satisfied.
“No, I wanted to win. I wanted to play at Shinnecock next year,” said Verplank, referring to the site of the 2018 U.S. Open and the exemption that the U.S. Senior Open champion receives. “I’ve spent my whole life walking golf courses and played better than this.”
Verplank, who rode a cart in winning the PGA Tour National Qualifying Tournament in 1998, didn’t consider asking the USGA for the use of a cart until the U.S. Open two weeks ago. He is eligible to use one based on that Supreme Court ruling in the Casey Martin case the same year in which Martin received an accommodation for a cart under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Not only was there a medical need but a practical one. After finishing second in last week’s American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin, he flew home Monday for his own charity event at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., before getting to Salem. The Scott and Kim Verplank Foundation Invitational Golf Tournament raises money for college scholarships for students with diabetes. Currently, the foundation funds 23 scholarships.
“I’ve played more golf in two weeks in forever,” he said. “Riding in the cart. Today was huge because I was able to keep things more normal as far as my blood sugar. The first couple of days I don’t feel like it really helped me because I was struggling with my blood sugar and not sure where it was. I had to figure out how much I’m burning versus walking and with the change in temperatures and so forth. Adrenaline … so many things go into your blood sugar. And that’s why I’ve gotten worn down after 44 years.
“You know, golf is not the best thing when you have diabetes, because the best thing you can do is in theory, is be on the same schedule all the time. Well, there is no same schedule out here in golf. You start late. You start early. You have stops. I’m not complaining. I’ll be fine. But you know, it’s difficult.”
Verplank has competed in nine events this year on the PGA Tour Champions after undergoing right shoulder surgery in December. He’s had a litany of health issues during a PGA Tour career in which he won five times, and he continues to battle a wrist problem from surgery five years ago.
Yet he soldiers on. He still enjoys the competition and still has plenty of game.
“I played pretty good the first couple of days. It was an interesting week. It was a fun week when we get to play an old-style course like this with these greens. There are pin placements you don’t see any more. I thought it was cool. It was a great event, and the USGA was great. They couldn’t have been nicer and more understanding. I just wish I’d have finished a little better.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.