Plenty of historic venues have hosted the U.S. Senior Open Championship since its inception in 1980. Winged Foot, a perennial major-championship site, had the inaugural. Oakland Hills (2), Inverness (2), Scioto (2), Cherry Hills, Medinah and Oak Hill are all Senior Open sites that have enjoyed multiple U.S. Opens.
But Saucon Valley Country Club, this week’s site, stands at the head of the class. The 42nd iteration of the championship for the best 50-and-over players comes to the Lehigh Valley for a record third time. Larry Laoretti, the cigar-smoking everyman who famously drove from site to site in an RV, won here in 1992. Eight years later, Hale Irwin, the owner of the most senior victories all time with 45, became a five-time USGA champion here.
More history awaits over the next four days as one player will be fortunate enough to hoist the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy late Sunday afternoon. Here are 3 Things to Know about Rounds 1 and 2:
Only three players have successfully defended their U.S. Senior Open title since 1980: Miller Barber (1984-85), Gary Player (1987-88) and Allen Doyle (2005-06). Jim Furyk would love to add his name to that illustrious list.
But to do so, the Pennsylvania native will need to return to the form he had in 2020-21 when he led PGA Tour Champions in scoring (68.84), posted three wins and added 15 other top 10s in 26 starts. Other than a tie for eighth in the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, Furyk has struggled in 2022. In his last five starts, he has finished no better than a tie for 34th.
Last week, however, Furyk may have found some encouragement. Competing against the “flatbellies” at The Country Club, Furyk nearly made the 36-hole cut in the 122nd U.S. Open, a championship he won 19 years ago and in which he was a three-time runner-up. He posted rounds of 74-70 to miss playing the weekend by one stroke.
“The U.S. Open takes a lot out of you both mentally and physically because it is so demanding,” said Furyk. “That being said, the conditions last week, the heavy rough, the narrow fairways, the difficult course with the extremely severe greens, that's all really good preparation coming into this week. This one's not going to sneak up on me, put it that way. I already went through it last week, so it's just a matter of having my game in good shape and playing well.”
Before he turned 50, Steven Alker could best be described as a journeyman. The New Zealand native traveled the globe to chase his golf dreams, winning 15 times overall. Three came on the PGA Tour of Australasia, four on the Web.com Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour), two on PGA Tour Canada as well as the national opens of Tahiti and Fiji. He qualified for six majors, never finishing better than a tie for 19th (2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes).
But in the past four months, Alker has become the Tiger Woods of PGA Tour Champions, with three wins, including the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. He has also lost two playoffs, one to Miguel Angel Jimenez in the season opener in Hawaii and a second to Scott Parel in the ClubCorp Classic.
“He's not a household name, but in our professional game we've seen him play,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els. “He's the type of guy, he kept himself in pretty good shape. He's very athletic. When he came over [to PGA Tour Champions] he was ready to play. He's just grown in confidence. He's really a player.”
Don’t be surprised if Alker’s name occupies a spot on the leader board throughout the championship.
Last year, Furyk made the most of his U.S. Senior Open debut by winning at Omaha Country Club by three strokes over another “rookie,” Mike Weir, and Retief Goosen.
Could David Duval, Padraig Harrington or Y.E. Yang enjoy similar success? All three major champions are set to compete in their first U.S. Senior Open. Harrington, a two-time winner of the British Open (2007-08) and 2008 PGA champion, has had the best season of the three, finishing runner-up in the year’s first Senior major, the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Ala. He tied for 20th in last month’s Senior PGA Championship.
Duval, a former world No. 1 who worked for Golf Channel before joining the senior circuit this year, is still trying to find his footing, with his best finish a tie for 31st in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in early May.
Yang, who outdueled Tiger Woods at Hazeltine National Golf Club to win the 2009 PGA Championship, has posted three top-20 finishes in 10 starts. He finished T-33 in his only appearance in the Senior PGA Championship.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.