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Tom Lehman Senior PGA Championship
Tom Lehman will face an extra-tough challenge at Canterbury: He didn't arrive at the course until Wednesday afternoon. (Photo: Getty Images)

More than a few dream of a dandy Senior PGA Championship debut

They come sporting some of the spiffiest credentials in the game, many boasting a major championship on their resume. But just because they were hot shots on the PGA Tour does not necessarily mean they can waltz into a major championship on the Champions Tour and walk away with the hardware. That much Senior PGA Championship rookies Tom Lehman, Larry Mize, Wayne Grady and Fred Funk, among others, are well aware of.

By Craig Dolch, Special to PGA.com

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Almost one-fourth of the 156-player field will be playing in this week's 70th Senior PGA Championship for the first time. The 38 newcomers range from the unknown (Kong Meshiai of Japan, for instance) to the very-known.

Five of the players making their debut won major championships on the PGA Tour: Tom Lehman (1996 British Open), Hal Sutton (1983 PGA Championship), Larry Mize (1987 Masters), Bob Tway (1986 PGA Championship) and Wayne Grady (1990 PGA Championship).

This past success doesn't always translate into future glory, especially since it's been more than a decade since any of them won their major titles. But this quintet has the experience of getting it done in golf's most pressurized situation.

"It's always tough to win a major, no matter what tour you're talking about," Mize said before playing a practice round Wednesday at Canterbury Golf Club. "I have a lot of respect for the players out here; there are a lot of very good players. And this course will be a tough test. You're going to have to do a lot of things right to win this week."

Mize showed last month he still has plenty of game when he finished tied for 30th at the Masters. Yet his best finish in 12 starts on the Champions Tour was a fourth in last week's rain-abbreviated Regions Charity Classic.

History has shown it's difficult for a player to come out and immediately dominate on the Champions Tour, especially for players who weren't very competitive in their late-40s on the PGA Tour.

Lehman may prove to be the exception. Last month he became just the 13th player in tour history to win his first Champions start, teaming with Bernhard Langer to capture the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Of course, Lehman was still contending on the PGA Tour after turning 50, taking a final-round lead at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook in March before fading to eighth after a 75.

Lehman didn't arrive at Canterbury until Wednesday afternoon because his oldest daughter, Rachel, graduated from high school Tuesday night in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lehman took a red-eye to Cleveland and was only able to hit a few balls on the range before rushing to the first tee to get in his lone practice round of the week.

"This is something I've never done before," Lehman said of showing up at a course a day before a major. "But (caddie) Andy Martinez came in here early and he knows the course very well. I probably won't be real aggressive to start with, but this is a big event and I wanted to play in it."

Grady had just one top-10 finish in 55 career starts on the Champions Tour and has yet to crack the top 50 in five events this year. Despite the struggles, Grady always has something to lean on.

"Everyone out here wanted to win a major, and I was fortunate enough to get one," Grady said. "That's easily the highlight of my career."

Nick Price is a perfect example of how even a Hall of Famer on the PGA Tour is not guaranteed quick success on the Champions Tour. It took Price 39 starts -- and several close calls -- before he finally lifted a trophy at last month's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am near Tampa.  

"When you first come out here, because you're 50, everybody expects you to play really well because you're the new kid in the block," Price said. "But when you're not competitive in your late-40s, you have to build that competitiveness back up. When you find yourself in contention, everybody thinks you're a shoo-in to win. But it doesn't happen that way."

Other prominent players entered in the Senior PGA for the first time are Fred Funk, who won The Players Championship in 2005, and multiple PGA Tour winners Ken Green, Fulton Allem and Dan Forsman. The newcomers have used this week to learn about Canterbury, as well as the long history of the Senior PGA.

"I was surprised when I saw the history of the Senior PGA; I had no idea it was this old," said Funk, who is still bothered by a sore knee. "I would have pictured maybe the 1960s (when) they would have started the Senior PGA. Not 1937."

When told where the inaugural Senior PGA was held -- at Augusta National, home of the Masters -- the first two years, Funk expressed further surprise.

"Oh really?" he said. "I didn't know that, either. So it's got a tremendous history to it. And I had no idea. I just didn't think they would have thought of a need for a Senior PGA way back then. I don't know why I thought that, but, boy, I was thinking of golf history and I wouldn't have thought the old guys would have thought of such a thing that long ago."

The Senior PGA is more than twice as old as any other major on the Champions Tour.
 

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