By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Through a couple of practice rounds in preparation for the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, several players admitted they wouldn't be surprised to see a score at or around par win the tournament. Harbor Shores, they said, is just that difficult.
On Thursday, it looked like they were on to something. With winds reaching nearly 30 mph in the first round, only eight players came in under par.
As for the rest of the week, the initial attitude had to have been reverse psychology. There's no other way to explain the crazy low scores that were posted the rest of the week in southwest Michigan.
Eventually England’s Roger Chapman would win at 13-under-par 71, two shots better than John Cook, but that was only part of the story.
In Sunday's final round, there were plenty of players going low – 46 turned in a score under par – but none were better than Kenny Perry.
Perry shattered the previous course record of 7-under 64 set by Michael Allen on Friday with a 9-under 62, a new record low for the Senior PGA Championship. It also tied the record-low for a senior major championship, helping Perry zoom into the top 10. He finished at 8-under 276 to end up ninth.
"On Friday afternoon I made a swing change, I started taking the club back more inside, just something as simple as that, and I started hitting it perfect with the driver," Perry said. "And the irons got good again. And I opened up with two birdies right out of the hopper and eagled the fifth hole and birdied 8, 9 and 10, and off to the races I was going."
Perry also attributed the low scores to the course set-up -- one that left the greens a little slower than you'd expect for a major so that things wouldn't get out of control on the Jack Nicklaus greens that looked as if they had elephants buried in them.
"At the start of the week I definitely wouldn't have thought 62 was possible," he said. "But then we were lucky, the PGA definitely kept the greens at just average speed. I think if they got them up to 11, 12 on the Stimpmeter, we would have really had some problems out there. They kept them probably at nine, very receptive, and that helped us to be able to shoot good scores."
The fact that Harbor Shores is a new venue for everyone was a factor, too.
"I think the problem was none of us had a lot of experience," Perry said. "Nobody knew this place at all. We all come in here blind, playing a new venue. And it's tough. It's tough to learn green complexes, tough to play one round of golf and tee it up in the tournament and say I'm ready to play."
After a few days though, Perry was one of many who had the course figured out. All told, eight players shot 65 or better on Sunday alone.
Scotland's Sandy Lyle made a run at what looked to be a short-lived course record for Perry, but with late bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18, the recently inducted World Golf Hall of Famer had to settle for a 7-under 64 and his best ever finish in five Senior PGA Championship starts -- a tie for fourth.
“Well, considering only about three holes into my second round this week I was at 6 over, looking like I'm going to have a hard job even to make the cut,” Lyle said, “I turned it around. And what I've done differently? Nothing. I've got a new putter out this week, which didn't work very well the first day, and then the last few days it's done its work a lot better. I'm making putts. I'm making a lot of putts.”
Peter Senior, a two-time winner in his days on the European Tour, carded an amazing 7-under 28 on the back nine. That, along with his 1-under 35 on the front nine, spelled a final-round of 8-under 63 for Senior, powering him to that tie for fourth, along with Lyle, Joe Daley (64), Bernhard Langer (65) and David Frost (67). Sunday’s 63 was also Senior’s career low round.
Mark Calcavecchia made birdies in bunches during the final round too. He started the day at 2 over for the week, but rattled off a bogey-free, 7-under 64 to get to 5 under for the tournament to soar up the leaderboard.
"It was pretty good," said Calcavecchia, who tied for12th. "Obviously it was a nice day out there, greens were pretty soft. It was a weird week for me. I was either awesome or I hit some shots this week I've never hit in my life. I chunked three or four shots badly and then I would turn around and hit a 5-iron six feet from the hole. It was the weirdest thing – five three-putts the first day, which I don't know if I ever had.
"The first day was tough. Then I think as the week went along we started to learn the course a little bit better and the greens, they kept them plenty soft and not too fast so you could play around here. The first day was just brutal because they were pretty firm actually and the wind was blowing 30 mph. So I'm kind of glad it wasn't like that all week. But as far as today goes, yeah, I think I hit every fairway but one and every green but one, or I missed two greens. So it was a great day."
Finally, 55-year-old Jeff Freeman, the medalist at the 2011 Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament, also fired a 7-under 64 Sunday to tie for 29th. Prior to that, Freeman's best score for the week had been a 1-over 72 in the third round.
"I finally got the putter working today," said Freeman, who won the PGA Professional National Championship at Whistling Straits in 1999. "When you make putts it's easier to hit it well. When you're not making any you're trying so hard to hit it close so you can tap them in. But, no, everything was working today. I started making some putts and hit it good."
As for those who thought even par would be could enough to hoist the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy?
Turns out that even par at Harbor Shores was only good for a 35th-place tie.