By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – England’s Roger Chapman has been playing golf since he was 10 years old. He turned pro in 1981 at the age of 21.
Forty-three years after he began playing and 32 years after he turned pro, the 53-year-old Chapman estimates that Saturday’s third round of the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid at Harbor Shores was “one of those days where I think it's the best iron play I've ever played in my career.”
That would explain the course-record-tying 7-under 64 that put Chapman at 14-under 199 through 54 holes, good for a commanding five-shot lead over John Cook with 18 holes left to play. Steve Pate and Hale Irwin are seven shots behind Chapman at 7 under.
“Funny enough I was having a bit of lunch with David Frost this morning and we said, aren't we so lucky?” said Chapman, whose 199 total ties the legendary Sam Snead for the best 54-hole mark in tournament history. “We’re 50 years old and more and still doing the sport that we have done for so long. I started when I was 10. I turned pro when I was 21. And to still go at 53, I’m absolutely delighted. We're very lucky.”
Interestingly, Chapman spent 18 months as a rules official on the European Tour after his full-time playing days in 2006.
“When I quit the main European Tour in about '06, I was asked whether I would be interested in being a rules official,” he said. “At the time I said no, I wanted to maybe try and do some company days and et cetera. But they were sort of few and far between. So the Tour asked me again and I did 18 months as a rules official, which was enjoyable. I really enjoyed the course set-up doing the tees and pins every day. The worst bit was sitting in the buggy for about 13 hours.”
Needless to say, he’s happy to be playing instead of officiating.
Chapman has been on fire all week – he shot 68-67 in the first two rounds – but Saturday was extra special. He distanced himself from the pack, which was incredibly impressive for a guy who only has one other tournament appearance under his belt in 2012.
That appearance was on the European Senior Tour two weeks ago, where Chapman finished 16th in the Mallorca Open. The way things are going at Harbor Shores this week, even he is surprised by his play.
“I've been working hard at home and everything felt good at home, so two weeks ago when we played it was almost a case of sort of dusting off the cobwebs and getting some stroke play in and trying to focus on what you were doing,” he said. “And I played reasonable finished 16th, I think. So sort of dusted off the cobwebs. And coming out here I had no real expectations. But I knew that I was playing OK and everything, the first three rounds have gone really well for me.”
Chapman made birdies early and often in the third round, beginning at the par-3 second, where he holed a 10-foot putt, the first of three birdies in four holes. He made a bogey at the par-4 seventh after finding trouble in the rough when his tee shot crept just through the fairway, but he got it back quickly at No. 10, the start of a special, back-nine 5-under-par 30.
At the 11th hole, Chapman set up a short birdie with a wedge-shot approach to three feet. He dropped a 10-footer for birdie at No. 12, stuffed a 6-iron to a foot at No. 14 and grabbed his last birdie of the day at No. 16, tapping in a three-footer after a spectacular 8-iron approach.
While Chapman’s lead will certainly be difficult for any other player to overcome, this isn’t a lock just yet.
In 16 full seasons as a member of the European Tour, Chapman won just once at the 2000 Brazil Rio De Janeiro 500 Years Open. He defeated Padraig Harrington in a playoff there.
He was close a bunch of other times, but has nothing more to show for his efforts.
“I think I had six seconds on the European Tour,” Chapman said. “I lost a couple of playoffs and I had tournaments that were taken away from me. I was in the clubhouse and then the guy behind I think in Morocco finished birdie-eagle-par to beat me by one. I should have won more than I did, I think I've … it's something like 16, 15 or 16 times I finished second around the world. So yeah, three times in second on the Senior Tour, the European Senior Tour. So always a bridesmaid at the moment.”
Chapman’s in great position to change all that on Sunday.