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A Senior Milestone

Peter Senior surpasses some great golfers to the record

Posted Dec 11, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

peter senior

Even in these days when fitness is lengthening the careers of tournament professionals, the only player who seemed likely to rival the achievement of Sam Snead as a winner of regular events, was Tom Watson.  Not any more. And it is richly ironic that Watson happened to be in the field at The Lakes last weekend when Peter Senior became the oldest winner of the Emirates Australian Open.  He did it at the age of 53 years, four months and nine days.

For the record, Snead was 52 years and 10 months in 1965, when he won the Greensboro Open, his last victory in regular competition.  It must also be noted, however, that less than three years earlier, he partnered Arnold Palmer to a memorable triumph for the US in the World Cup in Buenos Aires.

Interestingly, both Snead and Senior had problems with the blade. And by way of emphasising that there was no cure for the putting yips, the American famously declared: “Once you’ve had ‘em, you’ve got ‘em.”  For his part, Senior went through very difficult times on the greens until Sam Torrance presented him with a solution.  It was the original 48-inch broomhandle putter which had become a life-saver for the Scot.  By tucking it under his chin and swinging it in pendulum fashion, the Australian transformed his fortunes as an international player.

Among other successes, he had three victories on his home circuit in 1989, winning the Australian Open for the first time, along with the Australian PGA Championship and the Johnnie Walker Classic.  Still, he went into the 1990 Panasonic European Open at Sunningdale in a lowly, 100th position in the Order of Merit, with only £23,309 in prize money.  In fact he had become so discouraged that he considered quitting tournament golf altogether and concentrating on business interests which he shared with his brother.

“My brother and I had a pawnbroking business back home and I suppose for starters, I could have pawned my clubs,” he recalled.  “Mind you, the way I was playing, they wouldn’t have fetched much.”   But Sunningdale brought a most unlikely turnaround, given that he entered the event after four successive missed cuts in Europe.  New problems had emerged to replace those he had solved with the broomhandle putter.  “Things started going wrong after those three Australian wins the previous winter,” he added.  “I developed shoulder problems and my swing became a real headache.  It never was a pretty action at the best of times, but my rhythm usually kept me afloat.  Anyway, things went from bad to worse in 1990 and my confidence was badly affected.”

Senior had the good sense, however, to take six weeks off after the Open Championship at St Andrews that summer.  He then went to the US and finished runner-up in The International at Castle Pines, Denver.  Then came his greatest European success.

After 54 holes at Sunningdale, rounds of 67, 68 and 66 left him tied with a formidable rival in Ian Woosnam, but Senior wasted no time in stamping his authority on matters on the final day.  A spectacular eagle at the first was followed by birdies at the fifth, ninth and 11th .  Later, a bunker recovery to three inches at the 16th, sealed a memorable victory.

Two years later, he captured the Bridgestone Aso Open on the Japanese Tour.  By this stage, he was becoming a prolific winner internationally and was again successful in Japan, this time in the Chunichi Crowns of 1993.  Not long afterwards, the pawnbroking business with his brother had been launched on the Sydney Stock Exchange.  Then came a grand slam on all the prestigious titles on his home circuit through victory in the 1995 Australian Masters.

Though he never managed to find a scoring touch to rival Snead’s achievement of breaking 60, which he did at his favourite haunt, The Greenbrier, in 1959, Senior displayed an equally precious talent on his native turf last weekend.  The experience of applying a well-grooved swing to contrasting conditions all over the globe, gave him the confidence to overcome seriously testing winds gusting up to 50mph.  And he had the experience to know that a final-round 72 was going to be a priceless score while frustrated rivals ruinously frittered away precious strokes.

In the process, Senior reached a milestone which seemed highly improbable before that Sunningdale breakthrough, more than 22 years ago.

- Dermot Gilleece

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