8/10 • 3 - 6 PM
Asked if he had one resounding memory from his U.S. Senior Open victory at Saucon Valley Country Club 30 years ago, Larry Laoretti laughed and said, “The biggest memory I have is that I won. That’s what it’s all about.”
Laoretti was a feel-good story in that 1992 championship, one that was marked by record attendance and star power. Among the players in the field were legends Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. In fact, Laoretti’s victory was sandwiched between Nicklaus’ two Senior Open titles in 1991 and 1993, and it followed victories by Trevino, Player and 1969 U.S. Open champion Orville Moody.
When Laoretti took a one-stroke lead into the final round, he had already provided an entertaining sidelight to the 13th U.S. Senior Open. He and his family, wife Susan and 2-year-old son Lonnie, stayed in their RV at a campground in nearby Quakertown, having established himself on what was then called the Senior PGA Tour after many lean years as a club pro.
The prevailing wisdom may have been that Laoretti, a cigar-chomping everyman who turned 53 on Saturday of championship week, would fold under the pressure and the pursuit of established stars such as Nicklaus, Player, Al Geiberger, Dave Stockton and Jim Colbert, but he had the perfect antidote.
“At the Open, the key is driving the ball,” said Laoretti, who turns 83 on July 11 and the pro emeritus at The Fox Club in Palm City, Fla. “If you put it in the fairway, you’ve got a pretty good chance. On the last day, I hit 17 of 18 greens and I putted the ball well. I don’t even know what I shot, but it was enough to win.”
Laoretti shot 67-68 on the weekend, enough to win by four strokes. Colbert finished second, with Geiberger, Nicklaus, Player and Stockton tied for third one stroke farther back. Laoretti laughed when he recalled his wife rushing onto the 18th green to embrace him before Geiberger, who he was playing with, had putted out.
“Someone said I should have gotten a two-stroke penalty,” said Laoretti, who had accentuated his victory by making a long birdie putt at the last. “It’s OK, I still would have won by two.”
It was the first and last win of Laoretti’s PGA Tour Champions career, which was still wildly successful for him. He and his family had hit the road in 1990, having scraped together $110 for gas and meal money. Laoretti earned $2,600 in his first event at Key Biscayne and $15,000 the following week in Tampa, later saying that it was “more money than I’d ever seen.”
He totaled more than $165,000 in earnings in 1990 and more than doubled it a year later. His 1992 season, which included the Senior Open win, was his highwater mark, but he had 10 successful seasons on tour, amassing five runner-up finishes, 36 top 10s, and a plethora of wonderful memories.
“All of the top pros were very good to me, but I played a lot of golf with Arnold Palmer after I won,” said Laoretti. “Almost every tournament, we would play a practice round on Tuesday or Wednesday. I would play with Tom Wargo and Arnold would bring someone.
“The only problem was that Arnold never paid; he’d say, ‘I’ll catch you next time,’” said Laoretti with a hearty laugh. “One of the first times I played with him, I hit a pretty good tee shot, and I turned to the people around the tee and said, ‘How would you hit the ball if you were playing in front of the King?’ He was wonderful to play golf with; we had a lot of fun.”
Laoretti, a native of Mahopac, N.Y., about 50 miles north of New York City, was in the U.S. Navy before his golf career, and son Lonnie is now an enlisted man, a chief petty officer with 11 years of service. These days, Laoretti plays golf once or twice a week, and an upcoming pro-member event will be his first competitive round in a while. He last played in the Senior Open in 2014.
“If you’re only going to win one tournament, that’s the one to win,” he said. “It changed my whole life. It’s been absolutely wonderful. I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t do anything different.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.