2006: Allen Doyle’s double
In a battle royal between the overweight guys and the injured guys and those who fit into either category, Allen Doyle won his second consecutive U.S. Senior Open by outlasting homestate hero Tom Watson.
In the process, Doyle established himself as perhaps the most successful late bloomer in the history of professional golf.
The tougher-than-nails Doyle roared past Watson in the final round July 9 at Prairie Dunes Country Club, finishing with a 2-under-par 68 for a winning 8-under-par 272 total. Watson, who led after the second and third rounds, posted 72 in the last round and finished second at 6 under.
“I was in a no-lose position,” Doyle said. “If Tom won, he was supposed to win. If you grabbed anybody and they said they were (rooting for me), they were probably lying.”
He enjoys being an underdog, he said, “because I am one.”
“Being the underdog is not a bad thing. It allows you to come into town and take care of business, practice without people bothering you.”
Doyle, who turns 58 on July 26, became the oldest winner of this championship, displacing the winner of the inaugural Senior Open in 1980 – Roberto De Vicenzo, who was 57 years, 2 months and 15 days at the time. The minimum age for participating in the event is 50.
After an outstanding amateur career, Doyle turned pro at 46. He won three times on the Nike Tour, now the Nationwide Tour. At 47, he became the oldest rookie in the history of the PGA Tour. Now he has won 11 tournaments and four major titles on the Champions Tour.
Watson, trying to become the eighth golfer to add a U.S. Senior Open title to a previous U.S. Open victory, was gracious in defeat, praising Doyle for displaying “guts and heart” and saying that he “just didn’t have it today.”
Doyle joined Miller Barber and Gary Player in the exclusive fraternity of back-to-back U.S. Senior Open winners.
Two strokes behind heading into the final round, Doyle pressured Watson right out of the gate. After three holes and two birdies, Doyle had erased the deficit and was one stroke ahead.
Watson was plagued all day by iron shots that came up short and putts that veered right.
“So many of the flagsticks were at the front of the greens,” Watson said. “It kind of threw me off. And my putting stroke on short putts – well, sometimes it just doesn’t go straight back and straight through.”
Doyle, who had left knee surgery late in 2005, limped like a man who might have trouble finishing. That was deceptive, because he took the lead for good with a 6-foot birdie putt at No. 12 and followed that with birdies at 14 and 17, the latter trumping a tap-in birdie by Watson.
Watson had his own problems, pulling a hip muscle while hitting a shot during Round 3. “I was fine. I didn’t even feel it today,” Watson said after the final round.
Doyle displayed the same tenacity in the 2005 U.S. Senior Open, finishing with a 63 to edge two golfers, D.A. Weibring and Loren Roberts, who would challenge again in the 2006 renewal.
Weibring briefly held the lead this year after making seven birdies in the first 12 holes of the last round. From there, however, he collapsed, losing five strokes to par in the final six holes.
Roberts shot a record-breaking 62 in the third round, then started the concluding round with a birdie. After that, however, he took a nosedive and was 4 over the rest of the way. Roberts, Weibring and first-round co-leader Jay Haas tied for eighth with a 2-under total.
Bruce Leitzke and Peter Jacobsen tied for third, three strokes back of Doyle. Another shot behind were Scott Simpson and Andy Bean, who tied for fifth.
Jacobsen, after multiple knee surgeries, has a severe hip problem and was moving gingerly on the sand hills of central Kansas. He took the tournament lead after birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 on Sunday, but surrendered it with a double bogey at No. 9.
Simpson and Bean are some 40 pounds heavier than they were in their PGA Tour heydays, and both appeared worn out by the gauntlet that was Prairie Dunes.
The course is ranked 10th among Golfweek’s America’s Best Top 100 Classic Courses. Featuring nine holes designed by Perry Maxwell (1937) and nine by his son, Press Maxwell (1957), it is built among the dunes and unique sand configurations that give the layout its name.
With a length of 6,646 yards, Prairie Dunes is one of the shortest major championship courses in the United States. Its bite comes from elevated, undulating greens and extra thick rough.
“We have a first cut and then some pretty deep rough and then the lost-ball rough,” Haas said. “Instead of trees, there are weeds up to our hips.
“The course is not quite as long as Winged Foot (for the U.S. Open), but it plays very similarly. The greens are not lightning quick, but yet they are probably some of the toughest greens to putt that any of us have ever seen.”
Doyle and Fred Funk said the rough was tougher than the rough they experienced at Winged Foot.
“I didn’t expect the golf course to be set up quite as difficult as far as the rough,” said Funk, who tied for 11th in his 50-and-over debut. “The rough, you just can’t hit out of it. You get in it – just an inch off the fairway – and you can’t move it. Then there’s that real, real thick high stuff, the heather stuff.
“But it is a fabulous golf course. I don’t think you would ever get tired of playing it. I’ve got to put it up there with Pebble Beach and Cypress Point and Shinnecock.”
The rough didn’t seem to scare Doyle, who, as much as anyone in contemporary golf, seems to play his own game. “You will not intimidate Allen Doyle, I guarantee you that,” Watson said.
An example of Doyle’s individuality could be seen in the configuration of his golf bag. He won the U.S. Senior Open, the most prestigious title in senior golf, by carrying no iron longer than a 6-iron. Instead, he substituted three hybrid clubs.
Doyle, an Adams Golf staff member, had 11 Adams clubs among his 14.
Doyle copied his golf swing after the slap shot of his hockey hero, Bobby Orr. It is compact, powerful and extremely unorthodox. He has been defending himself against criticism or ridicule all his golf life, and it seems to have steeled him against the pressure of big-time tournament golf.
“I know what I can do,” Doyle said confidently.
His caddie, former club professional Butch Wilhelm, said simply, “He is the straightest hitter I have ever seen.”
In this championship, straight was good. Doyle tied for third in driving accuracy at 76.8 percent (hitting 43 of 56 fairways). He tied for 14th in greens in regulation (45 of 72, 62.5 percent), but had more birdies (17) than all but four players.
Who would have thought that Allen Doyle would win more U.S. Senior Opens than Tom Watson?