BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Eighteen custom-designed glass and steel markers stand proudly at each of the 18 tees at Harbor Shores. They feature descriptions of the primary native plant at each hole and each of the career major championships of course designer Jack Nicklaus.
Following Roger Chapman's improbable wire-to-wire triumph in the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, May 27, the new Champion from England mentioned those markers and issued a standing invitation to the golf legend.
"I thank Jack Nicklaus for building this marvelous course," said Chapman during the Champions' Toast. "I would like to have him come over to visit my one-hole major course someday."
Building a nine-stroke lead early in the final round of the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf, Chapman was on cruise control throughout the back nine, despite bogeys on three of his final five holes. His closing 1-over-par 72, his worst score of the week, gave him a winning total of 13-under-par 271. John Cook finished two strokes back at 69, and became the first non-winner in Championship history to post all four rounds in the 60s.
With his victory, Chapman became the first Englishman to win the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf, and the first European since World Golf Hall of Famer Jock Hutchison in 1947.
"It's the greatest day of my professional career. No question about that," said Chapman, who calls Ascot, England home. "It was hard work in the end; I think I had a nine-shot lead, and your mind just starts to wander a bit."
During his march to victory, Chapman said that he thought about his mentor, three-time European Ryder Cup Team member George Will, who died two years ago.
"Your mind just starts to wander a bit," Chapman said. "I was thinking of George all the way around - what he would be thinking."
The Senior PGA Championship has historically been where some players' dreams have come true, a stepping-stone for many who have never before captured a major title. The 53-year-old Chapman added his name to the honored list by snatching the lead on the 11th hole of the opening round. He shared the top spot with Cook after 36 holes, before sprinting off like a thoroughbred with a third-round 64.
Chapman had never won on the Champions Tour, and his lone triumph came in his 472nd tour start, in the 2000 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open. He defeated future multi-champion Padraig Harrington in a playoff.
From 2007 to 2008, Chapman served as a European Tour Rules official. Born in Nakuru, Kenya, he won the English Amateur in 1979 and represented Great Britain & Ireland in the 1981 Walker Cup, where he beat future PGA Champion Hal Sutton twice in one day.
Not lost in the Championship story of the first major conducted in Southwest Michigan was the timeless talent of four-time Champion Hale Irwin. The fit 66-year-old shot his age in the third round for the fourth time in his career, and he closed Sunday alone in third at 274 after a 68.
Irwin was one of many who relished a scoring bonanza in the final round. The field, which had begun the week with a humbling 75.7 scoring average, was the beneficiary of intermittent breezes under 90-degree temperatures. The final round average of 69.65 strokes was a blitz led by Kenny Perry. He registered a Championship-record 62 to finish five shots behind in ninth place.
Perry shattered the previous 18-hole mark of 63 by Buck White in 1961, and Arnold Palmer in January 1984. Australia's Peter Senior, who tied for fourth, added a 63, including a 28 on the back nine.
Perry finished ninth at 276, was one of many to praise Chapman.
"I knew I wasn't going to catch Roger," Perry said, whose scorecard included eight birdies, an eagle, and one bogey. "I was just going at every stick and didn't really care, didn't have any fears or thoughts, and I wish I could learn to play golf like that every day."
Through 54 holes, Chapman put on his own clinic. He hit 16 of 18 greens each day, and hit 14 in the final round. He attacked early Sunday, with birdies at 4, 6, and 7, which offset bogeys at 9, 14, 17, and 18.
Chapman also revealed his pre-round "ritual," that is sure to add to Championship lore for the folks at the Grande Mere Inn in Stevensville, Mich., 15 minutes south of Harbor Shores It is the same establishment where for decades legend Muhammad Ali of nearby Berrien Springs, Mich., paid a visit and had the restaurant cater often for private parties.
From Wednesday through Saturday of Championship week, Chapman sat alone at a small table near a window in the main dining room, where he read a book - a fiction thriller - while being served. "I ate there every night, enjoyed the food, and kept to myself. After all that publicity I gave them. I had to pay for my meals," Chapman joked. "I said, 'I'm just going to go now.' And they, boom, a bill. But it was worth paying." Grande Mere Inn co-owner Charley Racine said the restaurant will hang Chapman's trophy photo permanently near Chapman's favorite table.
Chapman, whose precision play didn't turn into a golf thriller, admitted that he had momentary negative thoughts.
"In the back of your mind you think, `Can I blow a five-shot lead?' The negative man sitting on your shoulder there, telling you all the things that could happen," Chapman said. "It is difficult, when you haven't been in that position before."
The long and winding road for Chapman began 40 years ago, when as a 13-year-old, he had hopes of playing professionally. That is when he met Will.
"When he passed away in 2010, it was like losing your best friend," Chapman said. "He was my father figure and if I hadn't met him I don't think I would be sitting here right now. . .He had the belief in me to work with me and never took one penny for a lesson. It was all for free. Not one penny."
Chapman became the first player since Irwin in 2004 to win the Senior PGA Championship after holding at least a share of the lead following each round. Chapman's third-round 64 helped him pull away from Cook, and he extended his lead on the front nine Sunday.
"I can't say it was fun to watch, but it was impressive to watch," said Cook of his playing partner. "He's a good man, though. I'm happy for him. We know what he's been through."
Cook made birdies on Nos. 9, 13 and 14, and he trailed by only four after Chapman bogeyed the par-4 14th. But Cook missed a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 15, a par 5 that was the easiest hole on the course during the tournament.
A bogey on No. 17 trimmed Chapman's lead to three strokes, but he kept his tee shot in the fairway on the 18th hole. Chapman missed the green with his approach, but so did Cook. On an emotional walk toward the 18th green, Chapman took his hat off to acknowledge the crowd, then eventually gathered himself and calmly finished with another bogey to win by two.
South African standout David Frost was the first to greet Chapman on the 18th green, and doused him with champagne. Chapman grabbed the bottle and took several swigs of the bubbly himself.
Chapman took a moment to gaze at the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy, the 36-pound piece of silver first presented in 1937, and carrying the names of many of the game's legendary players.
"It's incredible just to have my name under Tom Watson's, the defending Champion," said Chapman. "It's just, it's weird."