BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — After taking a nine-stroke lead early in the final round of the Senior PGA Championship, Roger Chapman needed only to play out the remaining holes and savor the greatest moment of his professional life.
That’s when he began to think about his mentor, George Will, who died two years ago after doing so much to help Chapman’s career.
“Your mind just starts to wander a bit,” Chapman said. “I was thinking of George all the way around — what he would be thinking.”
By that point, Chapman didn’t need to focus totally on his round. After making three bogeys in the final five holes, he held on to win comfortably by two shots Sunday, wrapping up a phenomenal performance in which he held at least a share of the lead at the end of each day. The Englishman had never won on the Champions Tour, but he took control of the major championship during the final two rounds.
Chapman led by five after 54 holes and was never really threatened on the last day at Harbor Shores. He closed with a 1-over 72 — his worst score of the tournament — to finish at 13-under par. John Cook was second after a 69, and Hale Irwin was another stroke back after a 68.
Kenny Perry had a tournament-record 62 to finish five shots behind in ninth place.
“In the back of your mind you think, ‘Can I blow a five-shot lead?’ The negative man sitting on your shoulder there, telling you all the things that could happen,” Chapman said. “It is difficult, when you haven’t been in that position before.”
Prior to this week, the only real highlight of Chapman’s pro career was a win in Brazil at a European Tour event in 2000. The European Senior Tour has held only one tournament this year, so Chapman hadn’t played many competitive rounds before coming to Harbor Shores.
Chapman could trace this win back 40 years, when he was a 13-year-old with hopes of playing professionally. That’s when he met Will.
“When he passed away in 2010, it was like losing your best friend,” Chapman said. “He was my father figure and if I hadn’t met him I don’t think I would be sitting here right now. … ‘He had the belief in me to work with me and never took one penny for a lesson. It was all for free. Not one penny.'”
Chapman became the first player since Irwin in 2004 to win the Senior PGA Championship after holding at least a share of the lead following each round. Chapman’s third-round 64 helped him pull away from Cook, and he extended his lead on the front nine Sunday.
Chapman birdied Nos. 4 and 6, and after another birdie on the par-4 seventh, he led by nine. At that point, the only suspenseful race was for second place.
“I can’t say it was fun to watch, but it was impressive to watch,” Cook said. “He’s a good man, though. I’m happy for him. We know what he’s been through.”
Cook made birdies on Nos. 9, 13 and 14, and he trailed by only four after Chapman bogeyed the par-4 14th. But Cook missed a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 15, a par 5 that was the easiest hole on the course during the tournament.
A bogey on No. 17 trimmed Chapman’s lead to three strokes, but he kept his tee shot in the fairway on No. 18. Chapman missed the green with his approach, but so did Cook. On an emotional walk toward the 18th green, Chapman took his hat off to acknowledge the crowd, then eventually gathered himself and calmly finished with another bogey to win by two.
“I made a couple of mistakes,” Chapman said. “And then you’re thinking, ‘Well, it’s only four shots now.’ But four shots is a lot.”
There were plenty of low scores Sunday, even as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees at the 6,822-yard course. Perry began the day 15 strokes behind the leader, so winning was never realistic, but he put on a clinic, shooting 31 on each nine. Perry broke the Senior PGA Championship record for a single round of 63 set by Arnold Palmer in 1984 and Buck White in 1961, although they both did it on par-72 courses.
“I knew I wasn’t going to catch Roger,” Perry said. “I was just going at every stick and didn’t really care, didn’t have any fears or thoughts, and I wish I could learn to play golf like that every day.”
Peter Senior shot a 63 on Sunday — including a 28 on the back nine — and tied with four other players at 9 under. Sandy Lyle and Joe Daley were in that group, too. They shot 64.
Chapman is second in the Schwab Cup standings behind Michael Allen.