Roger Chapman was no one-hit wonder a year ago in seniors golf, winning two of the five majors.
But could he have won the 2012 U.S. Senior Open, a title he defends next week at the Omaha Country Club, without his earlier victory at the Senior PGA Championship?
“Good question, good question. I guess we’ll never know,” Chapman said. “I think the (Senior) PGA probably helped me get over the line with the Senior Open. Who knows? It’s a good question. Sorry I can’t answer it.”
The 54-year-old Englishman was the second golfer since Tom Watson in 2003 to win two senior majors in one year. Bernhard Langer was the other, in 2010.
Both of Chapman’s titles came on Michigan courses, Benton Harbor for the Senior PGA and Indianwood for the U.S. Senior Open. It was important to him that he validate the first win, avoiding the fluke tag.
“I wanted to prove to myself and prove to others that I could win another major,” he said while in Omaha for the Senior Open media day. “Little did I know it would come only five or six weeks down the line. So it surprised me it came that quick.
“The way I handled (winning) the second time was chalk and cheese to the first one. I thought I was pretty good in the first one, but go back to the U.S. Open, I was so much more in control.”
Since Indianwood, however, Chapman has struggled to regain his magic. He’s 31st on the season money list with $251,875.
A tie for 10th is his best finish in any tournament since the Senior Open win, which came by two strokes over Langer, Fred Funk, Corey Pavin and Tom Lehman.
In this season’s first three majors, Chapman has gotten better with each event. He tied for 64th at the Senior PGA, tied for 41st at the Tradition and tied for 18th last week at the Senior Players.
Until last year, Chapman was a relative unknown in the U.S. He had one win in more than 500 tournaments on the European Tour. One of his top feats was beating American Hal Sutton twice during the 1981 Walker Cup for amateurs.
He left competitive golf for several years before turning 50, the minimum age to play senior professional golf.
“I knew I wanted to play the senior tour, but I quit the main tour in Europe when I was 46 or 47, mainly because it’s so hard to compete against the youngsters all the time for four rounds,” Chapman said. “I wasn’t getting much satisfaction finishing 30th, 40th, 50th, and not being in contention.”
At first, he tried landing some corporate work and wasn’t seeing much success. Then the European Tour offered him a job as a rules official.
“That was good fun, doing course setup in the mornings,” he said. “The worst part was sitting on your buggy for 13 hours, watching your mates play, outside the ropes.
“It did get my appetite back again, wanting to compete and play against these guys.”
Chapman’s breakthrough in seniors golf, however, didn’t come until he was 53 — following the realization he needed to be more fit. He dropped more than 20 pounds before the 2012 season.
At the Senior PGA, he led by five strokes after three rounds. He shot a 30 on the back nine of the third round — “probably the best I could ever play.” The lead grew to nine on Sunday before he ended with a two-stroke victory over John Cook.
At the Senior Open, he was four back of Langer after three rounds but overtook him on the front nine.
Chapman took a two-stroke lead to the final hole after nearly acing the 17th hole. He hit a 5-iron to the 205-yard shortie within inches of the flagstick for an easy birdie.
He was the eighth to win the Senior Open in his tournament debut and the third international winner in five years. He joined Gary Player (1987), Jack Nicklaus (1991) and Hale Irwin (1998) in winning the Senior PGA and Senior Open in the same year.
“My life has changed incredibly,” Chapman said. “Everybody wants a piece of you now. Something I’m not used to, but enjoying it. On tour, Kirk Triplett keeps calling me ‘Champ.’ The guys in the club repair trucks, they call me ‘Major.’
“I’ve been made an honorary life member of the European Tour, and the Golf Writers Association of America voted me the senior tour player of the year, awarded me a trophy at the Masters, which I never had been to before. The periphery stuff is fantastic.”
So much for any concerns Chapman had about extending his career.
“I wondered if my senior tour was going to go the same sort of path as the main tour,” he said, “a nearly man (journeyman) tag?”
He’s answered himself in a major way.