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Things falling into place for Sluman at Oak Hill
He was born in Rochester, N.Y., went to high school in the area and works with swing coach Craig Harmon, the longtime PGA head professional at Oak Hill Country Club, which plays host to the Champions Tour's first major this week.
And Sluman is arguably the hottest player on the Champions Tour at the moment, finishing last week's Regions Charity Classic with a final-round 64 to jump into third place. A month ago, he tied for second at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf with Craig Stadler.
He also recently received some well-timed advice from Jay Haas. The two-time Champions Tour Player of the Year told Sluman something so simple -- and yet so profound -- that it helped turn his season around.
"It sounds really dumb," Sluman said, "but (Jay told me) to try and play like I did when I was on the PGA TOUR as a younger player."
That little gem had philosophical and practical value for Sluman. Until he turned 50 last September, Sluman competed regularly on the PGA TOUR. Trying to keep up with the younger, harder-hitting pros had taken a toll on his drives.
Sluman had never been comfortable hitting a draw with the driver. He felt like he had to pull that club from his bag, though, to avoid leaving his tee shots too far behind his playing partners' shots.
"When I did that, my swing fell apart," Sluman said. "The past three or four years have been especially poor off the tee accuracy-wise for me and, not only that, the misses have been way off."
With less distance to cover on the Champions Tour's courses, he can now hit a cut with the driver and use his 3-wood whenever he needs to hit a draw.
"Jay pointed that out to me (and said) to try and cut the driver. I've got a great 3-wood again that I can turn if I have to," Sluman said. "It's really opened up a lot of doors by at least eliminating part of the golf course."
Sluman's also got one of the coolest groupies ever -- Bill Murray. The comedian has been friends with Sluman for years and recently followed him at the ACE Group Classic and Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.
Sluman was even able to glean some valuable insight from Murray. Or, rather, one of Murray's movie characters.
"I want to take baby steps, like Bill Murray did in (the movie) 'What About Bob?'" Sluman said. "...If you try to rush it in golf to get to where you want to be too quickly, you get disappointed."
Sluman won six times on the PGA TOUR, including the 1988 PGA Championship. Yet his professional record at Oak Hill, which has hosted each of the six most prestigious men's golf championships in the country at one point or another, leaves something to be desired.
That missed cut at the 1989 U.S. Open was understandable. Just weeks before the major championship, Sluman had undergone an emergency appendectomy. Naturally, his game suffered and he shot 75-71 in the first two rounds.
By 2003, when the tournament returned to his old stomping grounds for the PGA Championship, Sluman was 45 and had missed five cuts in the six weeks leading up to the event. He made another early exit with rounds of 75-79.
"Let's play four rounds instead of two in Rochester this year," Sluman said. "That would be my first goal because if you don't play four, you can't worry about playing well."
Despite being from the area -- and having his wife, daughter, several friends from high school and many familiar faces in the crowd -- Sluman isn't thrilled about the western New York weather conditions.
"Typically I don't like to play in the cold and rain and it looks like we might have both," Sluman acknowledged. "As you get older -- as I think the people that are older who read this know -- you feel better when it is a little warmer and such. But everybody has to tee it up in the same conditions."
Sluman and Harmon have worked hard on his game over the last six months or so. Now he's leading the Champions Tour in scrambling and has had four top-10s out of 10 starts compared to zero top-10s last year.
Sluman's ball-striking has dramatically improved but he still needs to improve with the putter. He missed three short putts on the back nine at the Regions Charity Classic last week and missed four putts inside 6 feet on Saturday.
"The guys who are winning, they make 100 percent of those for the week," Sluman said. "They don't make them all every week but, statistically, the guys who are winning probably haven't missed seven of them in a given week."
Sluman hopes all facets of his game come together at the right time for his first Champions Tour win this week. And what better place to have it happen than home sweet home.