There was a time on the Champions Tour (nee Senior Tour) when great stories of anonymity to success came along. There were those players who spent the bulk of their careers in golf in the amateur ranks, at local clubs, or outside the cutline on the PGA Tour. There were those players who found their moment when their resumes were supposedly already written.
We saw it in this area when a local pro from a little golf course in central Illinois found a way to win the oldest event in senior golf – the Senior PGA Championship. Tom Wargo was once one of those first newly minted golf champions who were stories of improbable success. His ranks were joined by amateurs like Alan Doyle, journeymen like Dana Quigley, also rans like Gibby Gilbert. They became the nighttime dream of professionals like Bellerive’s Jerry Tucker and amateurs like Westborough’s Jim Holtgrieve.
Unfortunately those moments were great stories to tell but not successes for their Tour to build upon. The Tour was born of nostalgia, not inspiration. The more these new faces populated the leaderboards, the more the ratings for their Tour declined. It was possible to become a playing success for the first time after fifty but those wonderful stories didn’t sell Pro-am spots and trigger the remote.
So the PGA Tour quietly returned to their origins. With little fanfare they tweaked the means by which players could find their way onto the Tour. They repackaged the product and called it the “Champions” Tour. It was not a place for second chances. It was a place for second acts.
That’s why this year it was such an old story brought back to life in senior golf. And that’s why St. Louis golf fans will have a chance to meet and greet a player who got a second chance instead of a second act.
England’s Roger Chapman was a young phenom in the game of golf playing as an amateur for Kent. He flourished in those early years amidst a generation that would restore respectability and record success for Britain’s golfers after a long drought. He was slightly younger than Nick Faldo and just a bit older than Colin Montgomery, but no less accomplished when it came to amateur credentials. He succeeded when it mattered and won when it counted. But unlike Faldo and Montgomery the move into the professional ranks didn’t produce the harvest of wins his amateur days might have suggested.
He found his way onto the European Tour immediately and had a chance to win in Switzerland in his third year, losing on the final day to Craig Stadler. “I think if I had won that tournament in my third year on the Tour things might have been different,” Chapman says. “If you keep knocking on the door and keep knocking on the door, and gradually the pressure builds and when you’re in the position to handle it, it doesn’t happen and that’s what happened to me”
Chapman became good at knocking, finishing second six times on Tour until after 471 starts he finally found someone home. His win in Brazil in 2000 ironically might have been the product of his lowest point as a professional.
In 1999 he lost his playing status for the coming year and thought seriously about leaving tournament golf. “I lost my card for the first time in 1999, and I said I wasn’t going to the Tour School. I was too good for that. And then Payne Stewart died, and I thought to myself, “he wants to play but now he can’t play. I can play but I don’t want to play.” So I went to the Tour School and got my card back. I went to Brazil the following year and won a tournament. So Maybe Payne was looking down on me.”
He spent seven more years on the European circuit without ever recoding a second win. He crossed the fifty mark midway through 2009 but still reverted to form, knocking on senior event doors with no response. When he showed up in the field at Harbor Shores in Michigan for the 2012 Senior PGA Championship he didn’t have to travel to the media tent for a pre-tourney session with the press. By Sunday night he there holding court as a comfortable winner.
This time around Chapman made that lesson stick. Less than two months later in the US Senior Open he ran down Bernhard Langer from four strokes back on Sunday at Indianwood, again in Michigan, to pick up his second senior major.
Next May, when the PGA of America brings their championship to Bellerive Country Club, all the second act stars of the Champions Tour will fill up the field and galleries will trail the Irwins and the Haases and the Couples of that Tour around the course. But if you want to see a beautiful swing that took more than thirty years of aging to produce the right bouquet, look up the name Chapman in the pairing sheet and spend a few minutes with what the senior tour was once about.
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX in St. Louis. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.