Daley wins first major championship

Joe Daley's routine pays off



It was nothing for Joe Daley to pick up and go play in a golf tournament, anywhere he could find competition. He was the ultimate golf gypsy, a player who competed in places such as Mexico, Panama and Morocco. And he never got away from the determination he learned when he walked on to the golf team at Old Dominion.

But, before he quit his job as a consumer credit manager to turn professional in 1991, Daley played amateur golf in his hometown area of Philadelphia. He even played in Western Pennsylvania before -- in the 1981 Pennsylvania Amateur at Oakmont Country Club and the '83 Pennsylvania Amateur at the Field Club.

Both outings didn't go so well. Not like this one.

Gerry Dulac recaps Joe Daley's Senior Players victory

The PG's Gerry Dulac recaps Joe Daley's victory in the Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Course. (Video by Brian Batko; 7/1/2012)

"Those places beat me up and slapped me down hard," Daley said. "I drove all the way back to Philly thinking, man, what the heck was that all about?"

PG VIDEO

This is what it was all about:

Daley, 51, more than atoned for those bad performances along the Allegheny River, and he did it in grand fashion Sunday -- holding off three former major champions to win the Constellation Senior Players Championship for his first victory on the Champions Tour.

The victory was not only worth $405,000 -- the largest paycheck of Daley's nomadic career -- it also gave him full exempt status on the Champions Tour and a spot in the 2013 Players Championship on the PGA Tour.

"It gets me in next week, so that's big for me instead of Monday qualifying," Daley said. "And it just opens other opportunities to go out and play and prove how good I can be and compete against these guys. It will be just a continuation of the process of more competition and playing great golf."

There was nothing flimsy about Daley's improbable victory, not when he shot 68, made a 21-foot birdie at No. 18 and out-steadied his two more famous playing partners, Fred Couples and Mark Calcavecchia in the final round.

He finished at 14-under 266, two shots ahead of another former major champion, Tom Lehman.

Olin Browne, who tied the course record Friday with a 62, shot 65 to finish alone in third at 11 under. Couples (71) and Calcavecchia (72) finished tied at 270.

"I don't know him that well, but I know him well enough to know he's a hard worker, he's committed and willing to pay the price," Lehman said. "I'm really happy for him, not only to get a win but to get such a big win and everything that comes with it."

Daley made only one bogey on the front, and that was when he bunkered his tee shot at No. 6, the par-3 Redan hole. But he got that back when he hit a gap wedge to 12 feet for birdie at No. 9 and a sand wedge from 111 yards to 14 feet for another birdie at the 431-yard 10th.

On a course that had been surrendering birdies by the truckload for three days, Daley's mini-binge didn't seem that extraordinary at the time. Turns out, it was.

"He had a string of holes there where he had about five straight holes where he had a 4-footer for par and he made every one of them, especially since I detected a flinch on the front nine," Calcavecchia said. "He had a putt somewhere and he completely yipped the [heck] out of it and it still went in. I thought he might get a little shaky on the back, but he was solid."

Lehman tried to close the gap with three birdies in the final four holes, including back-to-back birdies at Nos. 17 and 18. But those were offset by bogeys at Nos. 13, 14 and 16, an uncharacteristic lapse by a player who had made only four bogeys in his previous 62 holes.

"I made the birdies," Lehman said. "I just made too many bogeys."

It was not a good weekend for Couples, the 36-hole leader who was seeking to become the only player other than Arnold Palmer to win this tournament two years in a row. He closed with a 71 that included disappointing bogeys from short range in the fairway at Nos. 15 and 16.

"To have a shot at winning and to shoot 70-71 is not very good," Couples said.

Calcavecchia was leading the field in fairways hit through three rounds, but he started losing his direction and needed a GPS to find a fairway in the middle of his final round.

He was so disgusted when he fanned his tee shot into the right fairway bunker at No. 9 -- the third consecutive fairway he missed -- that he angrily threw his wedge at his bag after his approach, taking out the legs and collapsing it to the ground.

Calcavecchia got a small opening when he made a 6-foot birdie at the par-4 15th to get within two shots of Daley. But, at the 422-yard 16th, trying to hit a big drive to have a short iron to a front pin, Calcavecchia badly tugged his tee ball in the left rough. All he could do from there was punch a low shot into the back right bunker and make bogey.

When he three-putted the par-3 17th from 70 feet, Calcavecchia had missed his chance.

"I really wanted to hit one hard there and get as short an iron as I could with that front pin, and I just yanked it," Calcavecchia said. "It was the first one of those I hit all week."

Couples had several chances to step on the gas and close on Daley, beginning when he missed a 15-foot birdie putt at the tricky 158-yard 14th. But, at No. 15, with nothing more than a flip wedge to a left pin, Couples one-hopped his approach into the back bunker and made bogey.

If that mistake wasn't bad enough, he did it again at No. 16 when, after a perfect booming drive, he came up short of the green with a wedge from the middle of the fairway. That resulted in another bogey.

Even at the par-3 17th, Couples hit a low screaming 4-iron that landed 4 feet from the back left pin, exciting the large gallery that was following him. But, like everything else on this day, Couples missed the birdie.

"There's not much to say," said Couples, bothered all week by a stiff back. "I did very well to finish, that's about it. Loosening up and swinging are two different things, and I didn't swing very much in two days."

golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published July 2, 2012 4:00 AM


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