When Roger Chapman made his Open Championship debut at Turnberry in 1977, his immediate thought was “What am I doing here?”
Thirty-five years on, Chapman is back in Ayrshire for the Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex standing shoulder to shoulder with the man who triumphed over the Ailsa Course that year, Tom Watson, as Tony Jacklin and Gary Player lead the accolades to what has been an astonishing 2012 so far for the Englishman.
From a player who felt he was “totally out of his depth” during his first Open, Chapman has emerged this year as the man to beat as he looks to become only the second player to complete the hat-trick of Senior Major titles in the same season.
The fact that he is the main draw in the Rolex Pro-Am alongside Tom Watson today highlights his new found status among the game’s great champions. When he added the US Senior Open title to his US Senior PGA Championship success, he joined Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in an elite group to have won those two Senior Majors in the same season. Player is the only one to have completed the treble, but Chapman now has that record in his sights.
Jacklin was so impressed with his game prior to his US Senior Open victory at Indianwood, he pulled him aside on the 16th hole in the Champions Tour event at Pittsburgh two weeks earlier for a pep talk, saying: “Roger, there is no better player out here than you.”
“I meant that sincerely,” said Jacklin during last week’s Open Championship. “I know this game, and having watched him for two rounds, he's fantastic, playing within himself and he's a wonderful putter with a steady head. I was thrilled and delighted for him.
“To win two Majors, it is a remarkable achievement. It is extraordinary, this game, how somebody like Roger, who I suppose it wouldn't be unkind to say was somewhat of a journeyman throughout his early career, has blossomed in his senior years. His ball striking and his demeanor on the golf course are terrific. I'm a great Chapman fan.”
Player, who has matched his nine Major titles with nine Senior Majors – described Chapman’s achievement as “phenomenal”.
“I am really impressed by what Roger has done in winning both the US Senior PGA and US Senior Open,” Player extoled during an HSBC breakfast gathering last week in Lytham. “To go over to America and beat those guys is phenomenal. I have always said that my grand slam on the Senior Tour was better than on the main Tour because being able to still do it and compete over the age of 50 is very, very tough.
“These guys can still play, players like Tom Watson, who almost won The Open three years ago. His shot at Turnberry was probably the unluckiest shot I have ever seen in golf as he hit that perfectly. If he had won, that would have been the greatest story in the history of sport – it would have been like Pele coming back and scoring in the World Cup. The standard on the Senior Tour is so high, and for Roger to go over there and do it twice was exceptional.”
Praise continues to flood in from all quarters, Chapman revealing he has received a letters for congratulation from Arnold Palmer and many more. And whether he makes it into the record books or not this week, his journey from starry-eyed amateur to double Senior Major Champion is already a great chapter in the history of the sport.
“To go from watching Tom Watson winning the Open 35 years ago to playing with him for the first time on Tuesday in the Pro-Am is another special moment,” said Chapman. “They are all special moments now.”
Indeed they are.