Chapman emerges, makes his mark (again) in Michigan

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Roger Chapman doubled down in Michigan with his victory at the U.S. Senior Open.
July 15, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

LAKE ORION, Mich. -- Roger Chapman is 3-for-3 in Michigan.

Chapman completed his hat trick Sunday by winning the U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club. His second stunning victory in two months followed a breakthrough triumph at the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor.

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That's two Champions Tour major titles for Chapman but there's more. In 2004, Chapman was on the European Tour's Executive Board and made the first of his three visits ever to Michigan. He came to Oakland Hills Country Club with the European contingent for the Ryder Cup and watched Captain Bernhard Langer's team thump the Americans. It wasn't close. The Europeans were dominant on that occasion but no more dominant than Chapman has been this year with his two senior major titles in Michigan.

"You're right," said Chapman's wife, Cathy. "We need to be here more."

Chapman started the day 4 strokes behind Langer, shot a 4-under 66, and claimed the national title by 2 shots over Americans Tom Lehman (68), Fred Funk (67) and Corey Pavin (68), and Langer.

"It's a terrific place," Chapman said. "I love it."

Chapman put on a clinic to win the Francis Ouimet Trophy. At Indianwood, he won from behind, unlike the victory at the Senior PGA Championship on May 27 where he went out in front early and stayed there. He demonstrated he's got the mettle to win any which way you like. For a man who has always -- until now -- had to settle for something less, it showed plenty of moxie.

"I wanted to prove to myself and other people that Benton Harbor wasn't a one-off," the Englishman said.

"It's been a huge and fast rise. Basically, I was sort of a journeyman pro on the European Tour -- 25 years, one victory. Loads of seconds, but I was always the journeyman.

"I can't put my finger on why I won at Benton Harbor and why I won here. I'm just more confident in my golf swing. Been working with my coach, Gavin Christie. He basically says I'm not high maintenance. You just got to hit the ball as late as possible. That's all he says to me."

With the field closing in, Chapman hit the shot of his life on the 195-yard par 3 17th hole -- a 5-iron stone dead for birdie which restored a 2-shot lead.

"I have to say that was my best shot ever played," Chapman said. "It was pretty special, that shot."

Playing competitor Pavin said, "A great shot at the right time."

Cathy Chapman said her husband has been "really calm" throughout this unlikely professional renaissance.

"It's not been surreal, I wouldn't say," she said. "A process, like it was meant to be. We're loving it. We just keep waking up every morning with a smile."

Chapman finished sixth at the 2010 Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament, missing in a playoff of getting the fifth and final fully-exempt spot. That was pretty much what his career had been like for a long time. Close but never good enough to get over the last hurdle, to carve out a niche.

He returned to compete on the European Senior Tour where he was No. 13. Not bad, not good. Just kind of so-so, like his years on the regular European Tour. He won the English Amateur Championship in 1979 and five other titles, like the Lytham Trophy, the Lake Macquarie Amateur, the Zimbabwe Open, the Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open and the King Hassan II Trophy. The 2000 triumph in Brazil, where Padraig Harrington was runner-up, was Chapman's only European Tour win.

And then, out of the blue, in Michigan -- where there is no blue without maize -- Chapman stepped out of another kind of career maze. The labyrinth that was his professional career crystallized. Something kicked in. A golf swing that has always been pure to watch but not always trustworthy became magical and alluring.

In May, Chapman arrived in Benton Harbor, on the west side of Michigan, not a relative unknown in American golf but a total unknown. At the Club at Harbor Shores, a Jack Nicklaus design, Chapman found a way to become just the third Englishman to win on the Champions Tour and the second to win a major championship.

The U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood was all about things coming full circle, of champions from the past and other local courses returning to Michigan for reunions of all sorts. T. C. Chen returned to Oakland Hills for the first time since the historic 1985 U.S. Open, where he was ever-so-close to becoming the first Asian to win a major championship.

Fred Couples and Tom Pernice, Jr., winners of the Buick Open at nearby Warwick Hills, were back. Steve Jones who won the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills and Tom Lehman, who finished second to Jones, returned. Corey Pavin, who won the U.S. Open in 1995 at Shinnecock and attempted to defend it at Oakland Hills the following year, was high on the leaderboard from the start at Indianwood.

And there was Langer, captain of the 2004 European Ryder Cup team, and his visit to Oakland Hills. Langer returned to Michigan, too. He built a 4-shot lead through 54 holes, seemed unbeatable but, amazingly, let a third senior major slip through his fingers. Langer relinquished the lead Sunday with a bogey at the seventh hole while Chapman was making a birdie at the eighth.

There's more. Mark James is the other Englishman who has won a major on the Champions Tour. James won the SENIOR PLAYERS Championship in 2004. In Michigan. At the TPC of Michigan in Dearborn, designed by Jack Nicklaus, the man who also designed Harbor Shores which was Chapman's favorite course in the world until he came upon Indianwood. Full circle.

With the victory, Chapman joined legends Nicklaus (1991) and Arnold Palmer (1981) as winners of the U.S. Senior Open in Michigan. That's mighty fancy company for a journeyman like Chapman. Nicklaus and Palmer won the title at Oakland Hills. Chapman also joined Jack Nicklaus (1991), Hale Irwin (1998) and Gary Player (1987) as the only winners of the Senior PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open in the same year.

What goes around, comes around but there's something important to know about Roger Chapman. He's no longer spinning his wheels. These days, he's charging full steam ahead.

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