Mark Wiebe won the final major of the Champions Tour season at Royal Birkdale against the odds. He was dealing with injury issues, a difficult course and a tough man to beat, Bernhard Langer. But Wiebe called on all his skills and all his nerve to post a very special victory.
“How do I sum that up?” Wiebe said. “I just was luckier … I also feel like Bernie has won, what, a couple hundred tournaments? He's won so many, I feel like this was my turn, that's what I feel. It was just my time.”
There is truth in that assessment but, of course, there’s much more to it. The best tournaments on the finest, most demanding courses are won by the golfer who plays the best. The Senior British Open was not an exception. Wiebe was outstanding, especially down the stretch and in the playoff.
His affection for golf in Great Britain may have had something to do with it.
“I just love it,” Wiebe said. “It's the greatest. We don’t have courses like this. I mean, we have some, but we don’t get to play them. It’s just a true test of not just your golfing ability but your imagination and coming up with golf shots that you need to hit at certain times. There’s so much that goes into it.”
That’s what made winning at Royal Birkdale so rewarding for Wiebe, who had tied for sixth at Turnberry in 2012.
“I only played in two or three British Opens on the (PGA TOUR) because of family obligations,” he said. “I have not missed one on the Champions Tour, and there was no way I was missing because I knew about the history of the golf course. Just made it work, and like I said, I got my back worked on and everything I could to come over here and be able to compete.”
Wiebe believed that once he overcame the injuries that have hindered him this year he could compete again at a high level.
“I knew I could play good, because I started the year, thought it was going to be great, and then all of a sudden I was struggling,” he said. “I'm just tickled.”
Wiebe, 55, acknowledged that maybe he shouldn’t have tried to play through the injuries.
“But I felt bad withdrawing,” he said. “The last month has been brutal on my back. Started with an elbow injury and moved into my back, because your swing changes a little. I got some injections before I came over, and I've really wanted them to work so I could swing it … I kept taking practice swings. I never take practice swings. I wanted to know where it was going to hurt, and it's after impact. Once I realized I could play and it didn't hurt very much to swing, I was instantly in a great mood.”
There was another clue to what could happen at Royal Birkdale.
“I had been playing with my son who kicks my rear end a lot, and he even said, ‘Dad, you're playing great,’” Wiebe said. “I said, ‘Well, it's something that I can do when I'm not having this pain and I think that helped me so much with my attitude, just being able to swing a golf club.”
Wiebe has six top-10 finishes in majors on the Champions Tour since 2007. He tied for third at the 2009 SENIOR PLAYERS Championship at Baltimore Country Club. There’s an added bonus for Wiebe. He has earned an exemption into next year’s British Open at Hoylake.
The early-season optimism was justified when Wiebe, four times a winner on the Champions Tour, posted two top 20 finishes in the first three events before the injuries derailed him. It was in Naples, at the ACE Group Classic, where he tied for 14th, that Wiebe injured his elbow. Ironically, that tournament was won by Langer. Wiebe’s best finish in the seven events before the Senior British was a T56 at the Insperity Championship in early May.
At Birkdale, Wiebe rallied from a 4-shot deficit in the final round to force the playoff with Langer. Wiebe shot a final-round 66 then won the five-hole playoff which, because of darkness, was suspended until Monday morning. Wiebe won with a par on the fifth extra hole.
“I've played with Bernhard a lot, back when we were on the regular tour, so I know what to expect,” Wiebe said in England after the victory. “He's a great player. He's a world player.
“I had never been in a playoff in a major championship so I was a first‑timer. I just tried to play the golf course as good as I could. I'm speechless. Shocked, too. I'm honored.”
Wiebe’s excellent play carried over to last week’s 3M Championship where he opened with 64 and eventually tied for 14th with an 11-under-par 205 total.
“A little bit of confidence goes a long way,” he said.
Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.