5 Things: Storylines to watch at Senior PGA
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Five interesting storylines to watch during the 72nd Senior PGA Championship, which gets under way Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club:
• How long is Valhalla really going to play?
The awful weather that recently has inundated the country’s midsection hasn’t escaped Louisville. Some 14 inches of rain fell on Valhalla over the course of the first two weeks of the month, and more precipitation earlier this week forced the PGA of America to use something other than one of its primary, unpaved parking areas for the general public.
The official scorecard yardage this week is 7,300 yards (7,297, to be specific), but the lack of roll on the fairways will substantially add to that number.
“I was here for the 2002 Club Pro and the course has really changed and matured,” said Robert Thompson, the winner of last year’s Senior Professional National Championship. “It’s certainly playing a lot longer than what I remember it being near in 2002.”
• Who’s the favorite, Tom Lehman or Kenny Perry?
So far this year, defending Senior PGA champion Tom Lehman has been the story of the Champions Tour; he leads in victories (three) and his season earnings of $1.15 million already is nearly $470,000 more than No. 2 Nick Price.
But at Valhalla, it would be dangerous not to give serious consideration to Perry. He very well could have won the 1996 PGA Championship there, losing in a playoff to Mark Brooks, and it was at Valhalla that Perry had the most memorable week of his career.
At age 47, Perry made it his stated goal to qualify for the U.S. team and the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, which is some 125 miles north of his hometown of Franklin, Ky. Perry was at one point nowhere to be found on the points list, but with seven top-10 finishes and three wins, he made the team that ended Europe’s run of three consecutive wins.
“It’s a place where I had my worst loss and my greatest victory,” said Perry. “To be in my home state and representing Kentucky, I am sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
• Rooting for Ken Green
Ken Green, whose golf career and medical issues have been well documented following a tragic car accident in 2009, has teed it up only once so far this year and that was in the team format of the Legends of Golf. He’s in the field this week, having requested and been granted the use of a golf cart from the PGA of America.
“I can’t tell you how bad I want to play one good tournament,” Green said. “What I mean by that is, if I were to finish in the top 20 in any Champions Tour event, I could walk away and smile and just be ecstatic. There’s just something that keeps telling me, ‘I can do that.’ ”
The wet conditions won’t help Green, nor will the hilly terrain. “If you watch me, you’ll see me moving around . . . like Sergio (Garcia) used to do with the grip thing,” Green said. “That’s kind of like me with my feet because I keep trying to put it in a spot to figure out how the hell I’m going to make a golf swing.”
• What does a thinner field mean?
The Senior PGA normally has more of the top-100 money-winners than any of the other Champions Tour majors, and that still might be the case in 2011, but with 18 hours to go before the start of the event, that number was down to 77 following six players who WD’d on Tuesday. Logical contenders not at Valhalla include Russ Cochran (No. 4 in season earnings), Bernhard Langer (a five-time winner in 2010) and Fred Couples.
• Welcome to senior golf, Steve Pate.
Players who find themselves in that no-man’s land of professional golf, in those lean four or five years before their 50th birthday, usually are counting down the days until they become eligible for the Champions Tour. That’s the story of Steve Pate, who’s in a starting time Thursday at 9 a.m., nine hours after the clock strikes midnight and he turns 50.
In his best years, Pate, a six-time winner, finished inside the top 100 money-winners seven times in a span of nine seasons. But most of whatever he’s made recently has been on the Nationwide Tour; he had $6,030 in official PGA Tour earnings from 2006-10.