A total of sixteen European Seniors Tour Members will tee up this week in the US PGA Seniors’ Championship to be staged at Aronimink Golf Club, Newton Square, Pennsylvania.
John Bland, Delroy Cambridge, Bob Charles, John Chillas, Eamonn Darcy, Denis Durnian, Seiji Ebihara, Terry Gale, Bernard Gallacher, John Irwin, John Morgan, Christy O'Connor Jnr, Manuel Piñero, Gary Player, Des Smyth and Steve Stull have all accepted invitations for the season's first Senior Major.
They will be joined in the field by former European Tour stars, José Maria Cañizares, Vicente Fernandez and Graham Marsh, and by Japan's Noboru Sugai, winner of last year's Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, at Royal County Down.
Chillas, who got into the event by finishing in the top eight on last year's European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, is one of five members of this group who will be making his debut in the Championship.
"I am really looking forward to it," said the Scot, whose last competitive appearance in the States came back in 1982 when he represented Great Britain & Ireland in the PGA Cup Match at Holston Hills Country Club, Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I knew that, in recent years, the PGA of America invited the top eight on the money list but didn't really believe I would get in until the invitation dropped through the letter box. It is a great privilege to be asked."
Chillas, a former Scottish PGA Champion, and one of the most consistent performers on the European Seniors Tour, will be up against a top quality field, including no less than 22 former Major Champions, who between them have won 73 Major titles.
That list is headed by Jack Nicklaus (18 major titles), and also includes Gary Player (nine), Tom Watson (eight), Arnold Palmer (seven) Raymond Floyd (four), Hale Irwin (three), Larry Nelson (three), Ben Crenshaw (two), David Graham (two), Hubert Green (two), Andy North (two), Dave Stockton (two), Fuzzy Zoeller (two) plus Tommy Aaron, Bob Charles, Jack Fleck, Tom Kite, John Mahaffey, Bobby Nicholls, Bill Rogers, Craig Stadler and Lanny Wadkins (all of who have won one Major apiece).
Stadler, winner of the 1982 Masters Tournament, has just turned 50 and will make his Champions Tour debut at the US PGA Seniors’ Championship. ‘The Walrus’ will start out amongst the favourites but the biggest threat might well come from 57 year old Irwin, who won three consecutive US PGA Seniors’ Championships between 1996 and 1998 and has three other top five finishes in just seven appearances.
The defending champion is Zoeller, the 1979 Masters Tournament Champion and 1984 US Open Champion, who won for the first time on the US Champions Tour when he closed with a two under par 68 to finish two shots ahead of Irwin and Bobby Wadkins at the famous South course at Firestone Country Club, Ohio, in last year’s event.
Zoeller had gone 15 years, 10 months and 27 days since tasting success at a golf tournament but in the end kept his nerves in check, making deft up-and-downs at the 13th, 14th and 17th holes to claim the trophy.
Ebihara, the Number One on the European Seniors Tour's Order of Merit in 2002, was another man to impress on the final day. He raced to the turn in eight under par 28, tieing a Champions Tour record, on his way to carding a 65 that lifted him to a share of 18th place, ten shots behind the winner.
”Last year, Seiji's final round was one of the highlights of what was a good tournament for the European contingent," said Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the Seniors Tour.
“Altogether, 12 of our Members made the cut at Firestone and I'd like to think we can match, or even improve on that, performance this time. It is wonderful that so many of our Members get the chance to play in the US PGA Seniors Championship.
”The European Tour has established its reputation by providing a platform of opportunity for its Members including, in recent years, the Major Championships. For the first time, we are pleased to be following these guidelines in that three Seniors Majors no longer have a date clash on either side of the Atlantic.
"Members of both the European Seniors Tour and the US Champions Tour therefore have free rein to play in the US PGA Seniors Championship and the US Senior Open and, closer to home, the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, at the Westin Turnberry Resort in Scotland."
The US PGA Seniors’ Championship is by far the oldest of the Senior Majors. It was established in 1937 as the PGA Seniors' Championship at Augusta National Golf Club, making it only three years younger than the Masters Tournament. It moved to Florida in 1940 and spent more than half a century there before the PGA of America decided to establish a rota of venues, enabling the Championship to be played on a variety of leading courses all over the country.
This year's venue is renowned as one of America's finest tests of golf. In the mid-1920s, the founders of the Aronimink club enlisted legendary Scottish golf course architect Donald Ross, to create a course that could not be equalled. Ross complied, and in 1928, Aronimink unveiled a layout that puts even the world's best golfers to what Ross called "the supreme test."
In typical Ross fashion, many of the par fours and par fives on the 7106 yard, par 70 course run uphill, and golfers must negotiate an array of bunkers and doglegs that stand between the tree-lined tees and greens.
Aronimink has hosted a number of championships including the 1962 US PGA Championship won by Gary Player, the 1977 US Amateur Championship and the 1997 US Junior Championship.