News & Opinion

Singh handles Chicago’s summer rush

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. – The Champions Tour is a funny circuit, especially when it comes to scheduling its major championships. While the other pro tours spread their majors throughout the schedule, the 50-and-over men bunch theirs up.

That’s not all bad, just weird compared with the other pro tours. There are five majors for Champions players, and the fourth of this year was a dandy, with Vijay Singh beating Jeff Maggert on the second hole of a playoff after both covered the regulation 72 holes in 20 under at Exmoor Country Club in the Constellation Senior Players Championship (scores).

The five Champions majors fall in a stretch of seven tournaments. The first teed off on May 17 and the last putt drops on the final one, the British Senior Open at St. Andrews, on July 29. There were three bye weeks in that 11-week stretch of big events.

Scott McCarron, a perennial contender in them all, calls it “our majors season.’’ He professes to like the schedule the way it is, but not all of the players feel that way.

“We’d like to see them spaced out more, and we’ve been trying to do it,’’ Fred Funk said. So far, that hasn’t been possible.

The tournament scheduling in Illinois hasn’t been all that great this year, either.

When one of the LPGA majors, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, came to Chicago two weeks ago, it was scheduled opposite the 118th playing of the prestigious Women’s Western Amateur. That was a minor conflict compared to last week’s when the Senior Players – which has the strongest field among the Champions Tour’s majors – went head-to-head with Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event, the John Deere Classic, as well as the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

Those three tournaments had the same July 12-15 dates. If each had been held on weeks away from the other, that event would have been a highlight of the Chicago golf season. Put on the same dates, all suffered to some extent.

The Senior Players and Women’s Senior Open both struggled to find volunteers. The John Deere Classic endured significant weather problems, but it did land Steve Stricker, the only player in the Champions Tour’s top 70 money winners who didn’t compete in the Senior Players. (The Exmoor field also was without two of the circuit’s most popular players: Davis Love III, who played with his son, Dru, at the John Deere, and Fred Couples.)

At least the Senior Players produced by far the most final-round excitement. Laura Davies won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open by 10 shots, and Michael Kim took the John Deere Classic by eight. At Exmoor, it was a two-man duel between playing competitors Singh and Maggert in the final round. 

Attendance-wise, the Senior Players struggled on Thursday and Friday, when the Senior Women’s Open was making its dramatic debut at Chicago Golf Club, an hour’s drive to the west. The John Deere was another two hours from Chicago Golf Club, in Silvis. The real action in the end, though, came at Exmoor, a private club that dates to 1896.

One message from this event was that Champions Tour has shed its image as a showcase for Bernhard Langer. He isn’t as dominant as he used to be. Langer had won the Senior Players three straight years before finishing second in 2017. At Exmoor, he was eight strokes back, in a tie for 17th.

Singh became the seventh different champion in the past seven Champions majors. Langer has won only one of those seven – the 2017 Senior British Open. The other winners in that stretch were Miguel Angel Jimenez, Scott McCarron, Kenny Perry, Paul Broadhurst and David Toms.

In his younger days, Singh, 55, won the Masters and two PGA Championships among his 34 titles on the PGA Tour, plus 22 titles internationally. The Senior Players marked his third victory and first major on the Champions Tour.

“It was a little different [than his earlier majors],’’ Singh said, “but any time you win, it’s an accomplishment. The Champions Tour is a little more relaxed, but a win is a win.’’

Len Ziehm spent 41 years as the golf columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before his retirement in 2010. He is in his ninth year as golf columnist for the Daily Herald chain of Chicago suburban newspapers and in his 29th year as golf columnist for Chicagoland Golf, a monthly publication. He also contributes to Chicago District Golfer, the Illinois PGA website and operates lenziehmongolf.com. Email: lenziehm@gmail.com; Twitter: @ZiehmLen