SENIOR PGA: Chapman surprise win is still hard to imagine

BENTON HARBOR, MI. — To put it mildly, it’s hard to fathom Roger Chapman’s victory in the Senior PGA Championship on Sunday.

In 16 full seasons (and parts of a few others) on the European PGA Tour Chapman had just one victory – in a tourney called the Brazil Rio De Janeiro 500 Years Open in 2000., where he beat the much better known Padraig Harrington in a playoff.

When Chapman left the European Tour in 2006 it wasn’t to move to a senior circuit. No, Chapman’s best option then was to work for 18 months as a rules official. It provided a nice interlude before the 50-and-over competition was a possibility.

Chapman has yet to win a tournament in his four seasons of senior tournaments, and this year he’d played in only one event before Sunday – a 16th place finish two weeks ago in the Mallorca Open. In all his years as a touring pro Chapman says he had at least 15 runner-up finishes world-wide.

And then came Sunday at Harbor Shores – a two-year old layout designed by Jack Nicklaus that features all sorts of elevation changes and some severe undulations on the greens.

Chapman didn’t just win. He took the first major of the Champions Tour season wire-to-wire, the first player to do that since Hale Irwin in 2004. With 10 holes left Chapman owned a nine-shot lead. It dwindled to two over playing partner John Cook before Chapman posted his 72 for a 13-under-par 271 total.

“It’s hard to play with a huge, huge lead like that,’’ said Cook, “but for 70 holes he was really impressive.’’

“It’s difficult when you haven’t had much experience with that,’’ added Chapman. “You have that negative man sitting on your shoulder, telling you all the bad things that could happen.’’

Some did. Chapman finished with two bogeys before becoming only the third English golfer and seventh international player in 73 years to win the Senior PGA.

When the last putt dropped a choked up Chapman was doused with champagne by David Frost and Bobby Clampett, two rivals who had invited him to dinner on Saturday night.

“We were all crying. They’re two very good friends,’’ said Chapman, who declined the dinner invite because he wanted to keep a routine that included dinner at a restaurant in nearby Stevensville.

Frost had deprived Chapman in his last previous chance at a victory when he eagled the last hole and then beat Chapman in a playoff in a European Senior Tour event last year.

Sunday was a day for good scoring, but none of Chapman’s top challengers could deliver. Kenny Perry shot a tournament record 62, one better than the 63s posted by Buck White in 1961 and Arnold Palmer in 1984. Peter Senior posted 63 and Sandy Lyle and Joe Daley 64s.

Those scores would have done wonders for Cook, who finished second after carding a 69, or Hale Irwin, who shot 68 to finish third. Chapman enjoyed a $378,000 payday and received an invitation to August’s PGA Championship among other perks.

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,’’ said Chapman. “It’s the best feeling in the world.’’