Jack Nicklaus, left, and Arnold Palmer were two of the main reasons for the creation of the senior tour. Their popularity continued as U.S. Senior Open champions (Nicklaus in 1991 and 1993, Palmer in 1981).
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As golf major championships go, the U.S. Senior Open is still in its youth, despite the obvious contradiction its seasoned field might present. The first tournament with that title etched on the winner's trophy occurred in 1980.
When the best senior players in the world visit Toledo this week, they will play Inverness Club and contest the U.S. Senior Open Championship for just the 32nd time. Last month, the 111th U.S. Open was played in Maryland.
But in its relatively short life the Senior Open, the ultimate prize for pros over the age of 50, has developed as a rich showcase for some of the game's greatest names. Its past winners include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Billy Casper and Tom Weiskopf.
Palmer got his Senior Open win in 1981, the second year the tournament was staged. At the age of 51, Palmer mastered the Oakland Hills Country Club course in Birmingham, Mich., and then won an 18-hole playoff against Casper and Bob Stone.
The premier event of the year for golfers who are regular competitors on the Champions Tour, which until 2002 was known as the Senior PGA Tour, the Senior Open first visited Toledo's prestigious and historic Inverness Club in 2003. That tournament was won by Bruce Lietzke by two strokes over Tom Watson, who is skipping this week's tournament.
Lee Trevino was among the most popular players when the Champions Tour started 32 years ago. Trevino won the U.S. Senior Open in a 1990.
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Hale Irwin returns to Inverness, where he won the 1979 U.S. Open, with a great track record on the Champions Tour, and in the Senior Open. Irwin has won 45 Champions Tour titles and is the tour's all-time leading money winner with more than $23 million. He took the championship in both the 1998 and 2000 Senior Opens.
Despite his success on this circuit, Irwin expresses a certain degree of caution when approaching the Senior Open, since the players place so much emphasis on this title. It is not just another golf tournament for this field of veteran pros.
"When you throw the title on there of U.S. Open or U.S. Senior Open, all of a sudden you ratchet up the anxiety level quite high," the 66-year-old Irwin said. "It becomes something that we all want and are all striving to reach that goal, and that adds that much more pressure."
Miller Barber is the only three-time winner of the Senior Open, while Irwin, Nicklaus, Player and Allen Doyle have each won two Senior Open events.
Last year's champion, Bernhard Langer of Germany, comes to Inverness seeking to join that elite group of multiple winners, but also aware of how difficult that feat is to accomplish. Peter Jacobsen, the 2004 Senior Open champion, said that the pressure and the prestige go hand in hand with a United States Golf Association championship such as the Senior Open.
Gary Player won the U.S. Senior Open in 1987 and 1988.
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"Winning any USGA event is a dream. Anyone who plays golf knows the significance of winning a USGA championship," Jacobsen said. "Winning any event is challenging, but because of the historical significance, winning a USGA tournament makes you think twice coming down the stretch."
The USGA received 2,525 entries for this year's Senior Open, including entries from 78 players who automatically make the field since they carry exempt status. That group includes 13 former Senior Open champions. Entries came in from 17 foreign countries and every state except North Dakota and the District of Columbia.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.