The U.S. Senior Open is a MAJOR event for Oklahoma for several reasons. It marks the return of big-time golf to a course designed to host such events, Oak Tree National in Edmond. When Ernie Vossler and Joe Walser founded Oak Tree in the mid-1970’s, they sought out Pete Dye for the design…and almost immediately, golf “people in the know” were talking about this challenging lay-out in the middle of America destined for greatness.
A decade after it opened, Oak Tree’s first big test was hosting the 1984 United States Amateur. The course was showcased on national TV and apparently a Hollywood script writer decided to get involved. Because when the prestigious event ended, a golfer from Oklahoma State University, Scott Verplank, had won on what would soon become his “home” course.
The next step was Oak Tree’s first “major” on the regular tour, the host course for the 1988 PGA Championship in the blistering August sun, Jeff Sluman outlasted the best field of pros in the world, to get the momentous victory. Oak Tree had not only survived, but it held up and showed off so well that week, it was soon selected to host the same event in 1994.
But then turmoil hit the Edmond club. Ownership issues and other problems crept up and Oak Tree soon went into bankruptcy; forced to give up it’s second shot at hosting a “major” to, ironically, Oklahoma’s other majestic course, Southern Hills in Tulsa.
However, the course is now on very stable footing, and it actually hosted the Senior PGA Championship in 2006 to rave reviews and now this: hosting the 35th United States Senior Open. It’s a credit to all involved, including the “Oak Tree Gang”, the pro golfers from around here who could’ve scattered and moved to any course in the country. But Gil Morgan, Bob Tway, Willie Wood, Scott Verplank, Doug Tewell, Mark Hayes and David Edwards kept wearing the Oak Tree logo on their shirts and golf bags when they played worldwide – and kept the famed place in Edmond on golf people’s minds.
Fans will enjoy a fabulous group of 50 years old-and-up players this week, with a starting field featuring 13 golfers who have won a combined 18 “majors” on the regular tour. And their will be five guys entered who have already been inducted into the World Golf “Hall of Fame”…so have fun Oklahoma! Soak up the sun, keep guzzling the water, and take-in these competitive guys who can still “turn back the clock” at a moments notice – to thrill *any* gallery in the game.
Bob Jr.’s pick to win:
Tom Lehman – even though he’s never played at Oak Tree National.
Bob Jr.’s “watch list”:
Bernhard Langer – the German sensation is the Champions Tour leading money winner this
year…and he beat Jeff Sluman a couple of weeks ago to win the last “major” on this
circuit, the Senior Players Championship. He’s been as hot as the Oklahoma summer.
Jay Haas – he won the last “major” played at Oak Tree National, the 2006 Senior PGA
championship and he’s near the top of every major category on the Champions Tour again
this season. Always a contender, especially on courses where he’s won before.
Colin Montgomerie – the British star is said to be pretty savvy playing on courses
where it’s hot, and breezy. He’s had eight (8) “top 10″ finishes already this season.
Bob Jr.’s “darkhorse” to win:
The one and only “Doc”. Gil Morgan may be 67, but he’s been aiming at this one for
awhile, in what could be the final “major” he plays in his 40-year career. He’s
extremely consistent and extremely popular. If he starts off well, he’ll have the
biggest and most vocal gallery following him at his home course, Oak Tree National.
Remember that Hollywood script writer who “appeared” at Oak Tree in 1984? Maybe, just maybe, he’s lurking around the Media Center at Oak Tree National again this week. Will it be Mister Morgan, is it “Tway’s Time” like it was the entire year in 1986? Will “Wee Willie” Wood turn back the clock? I can’t wait ’til Thursday.
And don’t forget! The final two (2) rounds will be nationally televised by NBC starting at 1:30pm Saturday and Sunday on NewsChannel 4. Or is it “fore” ??!