Former firefighter Bruce Vaughan struggled through an up-and-down round Friday at the Senior PGA Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)
Former firefighter Bruce Vaughan struggled through an up-and-down round Friday at the Senior PGA Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)

Vaughan can't escape roller coaster at Kiawah

Be it his journey through the ranks of professional golf, or his second round of the Senior PGA Championship at the Ocean Course, Bruce Vaughan knows all all too well the ups and down that come with life on tour.

By Lauren Deason, Editorial Coordinator

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- One of the most over-used sports clichés is the "roller coaster" analogy. As in, "I faced a roller coaster of emotions" or "he had a roller-coaster round."

But looking at Bruce Vaughan's journey through the professional golf world, his quest to play on the Champions Tour in 2007 and even his second round at the Senior PGA Championship, that's the obvious way to describe him -- he's a one-man passenger on Mr. Vaughan's Up-and-Down Express.

During a Friday filled with tantalizing peaks then a fast-approaching valley, Vaughan rode up the leaderboard on birdies at Nos. 3, 7, 9 and 12. He'd nearly reached the top -- sitting just behind leader Eduardo Romero -- but peaked at 4-under before plummeting to a tie for seventh at day's end.

"I found it fun for 13 holes," said Vaughan, laughing but clearly disappointed in his bogey-double, bogey-par-bogey-par finish that gave him a 72. "I turned back into the wind coming home and ran out of gas."

On the 15th hole, site of his dreaded double-bogey, Vaughan attempted to chip to the right of the flag but the ball sailed left and burrowed into the sand. Just when he managed to get out of that trap, Vaughan sailed the ball over into another bunker -- "looking like a pro-am player out there," he added.

"It's not a difficult golf course but I think the bunkers are just a little too unfair," said Vaughan. "It's unfair that you hit a ball in the bunker that you could lose in there."

No. 17 offered more sand, a prospect he wasn't clearly excited about. But, with a green Vaughan estimated not a 10th of the field could hit, it was the lesser of the two evils.

"You're either going to hit it with the crocodiles or you're going to hit it over in the bunker and the bunker is as hard as brick. So what are you going to do from there?" said Vaughan. "Luckily I hit it in the bunker, but it was half plugged up in the side of the hill and it kind of popped out of there. I just chipped it out there to the side, two-putted and made bogey."

Vaughan spent too much time in the bunkers on Friday, a sandy situation he would prefer to avoid. He'd also like to avoid Monday qualifiers each week, a new system the Champions Tour put in place in 2007. See, he tied for third in the Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament last November but yet has to try to make it into each week's event with the other top q-school finishers.

There are no guarantees that he will make any field, so the travel and journey can be taxing on the psyche and the pocketbook. Vaughan thinks he got onboard the Champions Tour at the wrong time.

"It's difficult. It's bad timing on my part, because I just turned 50. Where in the past, if everything was equal, I finished third at the school so I would have been playing every week," said Vaughan, who has tried in every Monday qualifier but has only made it into the Ginn Championship at Hammock Beach where he tied for 16th.

It's hard to ride out this roller coaster, because even the elation that comes with finishing well or making it into a tournament goes away quickly when there's another tough Monday at the next stop.

"When you go out on these qualifiers, in every one I've been to I think I bogeyed the first couple of holes, so now you're thinking 'I'm in trouble.' It's not easy, the pressure on you in these qualifiers," said Vaughan.

Vaughan took up golf at age 20 while serving as a firefighter in Hutchinson, Kan., a career that was modeled after his dad's position as the fire chief. While on breaks from firefighting, he picked up the game with friends who went on their off days.

Though he didn't take up the game until late, Vaughan has journeyed on all the rides the PGA TOUR has to offer. He played on the Nationwide Tour when it was first known as the Hogan Tour, then the Nike Tour, followed by the Tour. Vaughan held a PGA TOUR card as well, after finishing sixth on the Nationwide Tour money list when he won the 1994 Pensacola Open and the 1994 Permian Basin Open. While on the PGA TOUR, he made 15 cuts in 34 starts.

Despite having Nationwide Tour status through 2004, he suffered a significant setback that forced him to take two years off. It was six knee surgeries from 2002-2004 for Vaughan involving partial knee replacement and lots of pain.

"I couldn't play because I couldn't walk," he said. "I'm unbelievably tickled that I've been able to walk this golf course this week."

Though the knee is still a little sore, Vaughan will ride out the pain and continue his bid for a Champions Tour win that would leave him fully exempt. If not, he will still attempt to Monday qualify every week. He's already in the Senior British Open, so at least that's a relief.

"I just have to make the best of it when I get in," he said. "I mean, I'm just going to have to try to win. That's the only way you're going to get out of here."

He'd better hold on, though, it's going to be a bumpy but exhilarating ride.

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