Planet Golf — 10 July 2014 by GW staff and news services
Verplank set to make Champions debut

Bernhard Langer joined an elite list of Champions Tour players when he won the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.

It was the third different senior major for Langer. He posted the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior Open Championship double back-to-back in 2010.

Only eight others have won three legs of the Champions Grand Slam. They are Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Miller Barber, Tom Watson, Allen Doyle, Loren Roberts and Hale Irwin.

And only two – Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – have won four of the five. Only the Senior Open Championship, which became an official Champions Tour event in 2003, has eluded Nicklaus.

Player’s resume is missing only the Tradition. He has won three senior majors, plus the Senior Open Championship three times (1988, 1990, 1997) before it gained major status on the Champions Tour.

Langer, who won the SENIOR PLAYERS two weeks ago at Fox Chapel Golf Club, will have to wait until next year to add a fourth leg of the Champions Tour Slam. He’s missing the Regions Tradition and the Senior PGA Championship. But Roberts has a chance to do it this week at the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree where Kenny Perry will defend the title.

Roberts has won the Senior Open Championship twice (2005, 2009), the Tradition (2005) and the SENIOR PLAYERS Championship (2007). In addition to the U.S. Senior Open, he needs the Senior PGA Championship to complete his Champions Tour Grand Slam.

In 1994, Roberts lost a three-way playoff for the U.S. Open at Oakmont where Ernie Els won the first of his two U.S. Opens. Roberts knows how to go low at the U.S. Senior Open. In 2006 at Prairie Dunes, he shot 8-under 62, the lowest round ever in the history of the championship.

Another Champions Tour winner will have fond memories of Oak Tree. Jeff Sluman, who is on a roll these days, won the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree.

“This is the first time I’ve been back,” Sluman said. “It’s a beautiful site, beautiful venue. The golf course is in magnificent shape. It’s going to be a fair but stern test again.

“There are a few holes that I certainly remembered. The nines are switched (except for the ninth and 18th holes) from the routing that I played in ’88 … I do remember I got off to a very good start and then holed a sand wedge on the par 5, which would be my fifth hole but now the 14th. That was 26 years ago, and I still remember most of the shots, so I call myself lucky for that.”

Sluman is the Champions Tour Player of the Month for June after a win (with Fred Funk) at the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf. He finished T6 at the Encompass Championship in his hometown of Chicago before the playoff loss to Langer at the SENIOR PLAYERS.

“It’s always a work in progress,” he said. “You’re always either trying to get better or if you’re not trying to get better you’re probably getting worse. I feel like honestly I’ve put a lot of work in on the parts of my game that really needed a lot of work, specifically my putting and my pitching and chipping.

“It’s been a two-year process, and although I still have some fun moments on certain shots, overall it’s gotten significantly better, and frankly if I had the knowledge when I was 25 or 30 of how to practice and what to practice, I think I would have been much better off.”

The U.S. Senior Open will be a gathering of the new and the Champions Tour veterans.

Scott Verplank, Woody Austin, Kevin Sutherland and Mike Standly, all winners on the PGA TOUR, will make their Champions Tour debut. Verplank won the 1984 U.S. Amateur at Oak Tree. Verplank, Gil Morgan, Willie Wood and Bob Tway live at Oak Tree National.

“Any time you get to play, particularly a major tournament, on the golf course that you live on, that I practice at every day, that I love,” Verplank said. “It’s a great deal. I’m thrilled they’re having the tournament, but I’m thrilled for the club and for the community. Oak Tree has never been better than it is right now.

“The only time I can remember them being close to this was the 1984 U.S. Amateur. That’s the last time the USGA was here.”

Verplank celebrated his 50th birthday on Wednesday and became eligible for the Champions Tour.

“For two days now I’ve seen a bunch of guys that I don’t get to see very often or haven’t seen often, but I think I’ll start seeing them more often now, so I’m looking forward to that,” he said Tuesday.

“And I’ve been getting a little bit of ribbing because I’m still not 50 yet. I’ve been playing against these guys forever, and I do know that you can’t take it lightly. I’m going to have to play as good as I can play to have a chance. I do know that. I know Bernhard Langer and Jay Haas and Sluman and just all the guys, Kenny Perry … these guys can still flat-out play. I’m not going to able to just roll out of bed and show up on the first tee and expect to beat everybody. I’m going to have to play at a very high level to compete.”

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