Seven European Seniors Tour Members will head for America this week to challenge for the second Senior Major title of the year, the US Senior Open at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Japan’s Seiji Ebihara, who topped the Seniors Tour Order of Merit last season, leads the way and is joined by his compatriot, Noboru Sugai, winner of the 2002 Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, in an illustrious field which includes no less than 15 Major Champions.
Ireland is also strongly represented with Christy O’Connor Jnr and Des Smyth teeing up, while the European Seniors Tour contingent is completed by the illustrious trio of John Bland and Honorary Life Members, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Smyth, winner of the 2002 US Champions Tour Qualifying School, will arrive in Ohio brimming with confidence after winning more than $500,000 in his first six months in the senior ranks.
The Irishman turned 50 in February and made an immediate impression while finishing tied for second place behind Argentina's Vicente Fernandez on his debut at the Ace Group Classic.
Subsequently, he notched a further six top ten finishes, most recently at the US Senior PGA Championship where he led after 54 holes before dropping back into a share of fifth place behind America's John Jacobs.
Ebihara, O'Connor Jnr, Smyth, and Sugai will all be making their first visits to a course that has become synonymous with championship golf in America.
The club was founded back in 1903 and since then it has staged four US Opens Championships, two US PGA Championships and one US Amateur Championship. It first received national recognition when it was awarded the 1920 US Open Championship and it was an Englishman, Ted Ray, who won the title, defeating Jack Burke, Leo Diegel, Jock Hutchison and compatriot, Harry Vardon by one shot.
Eleven years later Billy Burke won the 1931 US Open Championship there, but only after a gruelling 72 hole play-off against George Von Elm. Subsequently, Dick Mayer won the 1957 US Open Championship before two of this year's US Senior Open contestants, Craig Stadler and Hale Irwin, won the 1973 US Amateur Championship and the 1979 US Open Championship, respectively.
In addition to those five USGA championships, the Inverness Club has also served as the host for two US PGA Championships, in 1986 and 1993, which both were won in dramatic fashion, both at the expense of Greg Norman.
In 1986, Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the last to defeat the Australian by two shots. In 1993, Paul Azinger birdied four of the last seven holes to force a play-off with Norman before winning on the second extra hole.
Last year's US Senior Open produced a surprise when Don Pooley became the first sectional qualifier to win the title, posting a ten under par aggregate of 274 and then defeating Tom Watson in a five hole play-off.
The purse for this year's event is $2.6 million, up from $2.5 million in 2002. The winner receives $475,000.