Newly crowned US Senior PGA champion Denis Watson makes his first appearance on European soil this season when he tees up in this week’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Conwy (Caernarvonshire) Golf Club.
The colourful Zimbabwean joins a strong international field that also includes New Zealand’s Bob Charles, Japan’s Seiji Ebihara, England’s Carl Mason, Italy’s Costantino Rocca, Ireland’s Des Smyth, Scotland’s Sam Torrance and defending champion José Rivero from Spain.
Watson won the US PGA Senior title at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, three weeks ago after a titanic tussle with Argentina’s Eduardo Romero and in the process claimed his first Tour title for almost 23 years.
The Zimbabwean secured three victories on the 1984 US PGA Tour but then sustained serious injuries after striking a hidden tree stump while playing in the 1985 Goodyear Classic at Port Elizabeth. That incident resulted in him requiring a series of wrist, neck and shoulder operations and at one time he was told that he might never play golf again.
“I didn’t play a decent round of golf for a long time after that,” he said. “I had a lot of surgeries and a lot of rehab but it wasn’t until recently that I began to feel healthy again. That is why the win meant so much to me - it has been a long time in coming.”
Watson is joined at Conwy by two other recent winners in the shape of Costantino Rocca who won the recent AIB Irish title on just his third start on the Seniors Tour and Bobby Lincoln of South Africa who secured last week’s Jersey Seniors Classic at La Moye.
Former Ryder Cup star Rocca won his first Seniors Tour title in some style when he put together rounds of 69-71-71 at PGA National to finish two shots ahead of Spain’s Juan Quiros and England’s Keith Spurgeon.
Lincoln emulated that feat last week in Jersey, where he took the title by two strokes from Scotland’s Bill Longmuir after an impressive final round of five under par 67.
The defending champion in Wales is Spain’s Rivero who won his second title of the 2006 Seniors Tour season when he closed with a four under par 68 to finish a single shot ahead of Torrance, England’s DJ Russell, France’s Gery Watine and fellow countryman Juan Quiros at last year’s Championship at the Vale Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort near Cardiff. That won him a cheque for €109,366 and helped him to finish the season in third place on the Seniors Tour Order of Merit.
Conwy is an altogether different proposition to last year’s inland venue. It is a fine links course which last year became the first Welsh course to stage an Open Championship Final Qualifying event and which this year is also hosting the Ladies’ British Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
“It is a very good test of golf and is an ideal venue for a prestigious event like the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open,” said Seniors Tour Managing Director, Andy Stubbs. “This is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Seniors Tour season and a title all our players are determined to win.”
This year’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open is the seventh in a series that stretches back to 2001 when England’s Denis Durnian won the first event at Royal St David’s Golf Club in Harlech. Ebihara (2002), Bill Longmuir (2003), Ray Carrasco (2004) and Mason (2005) also won at St David’s before Rivero prevailed at the Vale Hotel, Golf and Spa Resort twelve months ago.
This year’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open has a prize purse of £500,000.