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Jerry Pate is back in the Senior PGA after his painful playoff loss last year at Laurel Valley. (Photo: Getty Images)
Jerry Pate is back in the Senior PGA after his painful playoff loss last year at Laurel Valley. (Photo: Getty Images)

Senior golf's elite ready to challenge tough Oak Tree

The 156-player field for the 67th Senior PGA Championship features 15 major champions with a combined 44 major championships as well as 34 international players and defending champion Mike Reid.

By Bob Denney, PGA of America

EDMOND, Okla. -- From his perch in the clubhouse, Oak Tree Golf Club Director of Golf Steve Kimmel said he has often observed players coming off the 18th green, each bearing a variety of expressions ranging from utter relief to tight-lipped, "Pass-the-aspirin" frustration.

And Kimmel was just referring to the amateur club members.

What will Oak Tree hold in-store this week as the 67th Senior PGA Championship opens with the world's best of the 50-and-older set?

Oak Tree has undergone a facelift since it played host to the 1988 PGA Championship. The renovation by original architect Pete Dye has been applied to recontoured greens, new back tees amounting to 87 overall extra yards as well as reshaped chipping areas around the greens. Overall, it makes for added drama for Kimmel and the gallery.

How much aspirin do you have in the clubhouse, Steve?

"Patience is the key word at Oak Tree," said Kimmel, a PGA member since 1989. "If you don't keep your patience, it will rise up and bite you. Our greens are what continue to make the course a great test. When Pete did his renovation, he took some of the severe slope out, in the case of No. 9 (which will be switched to No. 18 for the Championship) and to No. 14. Pete took out what was like a Volkswagen out of those greens. Those greens had a speed of about 8 before, but now it's about 11 1/2. Yet, you can still putt it off the green."

Oak Tree Golf Club's par-71 yielded a respectable 73.02 stroke average during the 1988 PGA Championship, but that stat was aided by the lack of wind that August, when Jeff Sluman stunned the golf world with his lone major title. The course rating in 1988 was 76.9, and Kimmel said that the rough was cut to two inches, which allowed easier escapes and lower scores.

This week, the rough is at three inches and has not been cut for a couple weeks. The course, now lengthened to 7,105 yards, also has a new rating of 77.1.

"I'm going to be real interested in seeing the scores," said Kimmel.

This week, Oak Tree will welcome back 45 players who competed here in 1988 for the oldest and most prestigious event in senior golf.

The 156-player field features 15 major Champions who own a combined 44 major championships. Defending Champion Mike Reid, who won a playoff last year to gain his first senior major, is joined by nine past Senior PGA Champions.

And the "Oak Tree Gang," featuring tour professionals who are club members and either live in the neighborhood surrounding the course or in the state, are among the title contenders. The Oak Tree Gang members competing this week include: 2000 Senior PGA Champion Doug Tewell; Gil Morgan, who was third in 1998; Mark Hayes; and David Edwards.

Following the Senior PGA Media Day earlier this month, Kimmel watched as Reid, Edwards and Morgan played a three-hole "shootout," tackling Oak Tree's first, ninth and 18th holes. Edwards won, posting a 2-under-par total.

"The guys played perhaps the three toughest holes we have," said Kimmel. "You can expect those holes to be the key holes in the Championship."

Kimmel said that recent equipment technology, course maintenance and the improvement of the golf ball all have contributed to allowing senior professionals to extend their lease on a competitive career.

"I spoke with Gil Morgan, and he said he averaged 278-yards off the tee when he was on the PGA Tour and is now averaging around 290," said Kimmel. "He said that he doesn't work out, but the golf club and ball are making the difference.

"Personally, I think it's the golf ball. We found a sleeve of balls that were about six to seven years old, and we went out on the range, and hit them. They felt like mush."

The 67th Senior PGA Championship also features 34 international players representing 12 countries. The last non-American born Champion was Gary Player in 1990. Japan leads the international contingent with eight players, headed by 63-year-old Isao Aoki, who was runner-up in 1996 and has seven top-25 finishes in 13 appearances. Scotland's Sam Torrance, the 2002 European Ryder Cup Captain and the winner of last week's Italian Senior Open, is among five of his countrymen in the field.

The Senior PGA Championship was begun in 1937 at Augusta National Golf Club at the invitation of legendary Bobby Jones, and has since featured the game's legendary stars that have reached the age of 50.

Tickets to the 67th Senior PGA Championship are available by calling 800-PGA-GOLF (742-4653) or by visiting www.seniorPGA2006.com.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf, while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.

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