1980: Roberto De Vincenzo wins the inaugural U.S. Senior Open at Winged Foot Golf Club

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De Vincenzo wins the 1st U.S. Senior Open

By: Claudia Mazzucco – On June 29, 1980, Roberto De Vicenzo captured the inaugural U. S. Senior Open, at the East Course of Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

Five former United States Open champions (Tommy Bolt, Julius Boros, Jack Fleck, Ed Furgol and Lew Worsham) were among 27 major champions in the 150-man field. Sam Snead was absent due to an injured back, and Ben Hogan declined the invitation for he was no longer playing competitively.

“Eight months earlier, when the USGA set up this championship for the first time,” De Vicenzo said, “I already started to think that it was an important tournament for any veteran golfer. I thought that winning it would give me great satisfaction and encourage me to keep playing competitive golf.”

To have a real chance of winning this event, he wanted to establish a consistent game. Three months earlier, he began training at Ranelagh Golf Club. He hit about 900 balls per day in order to correct the flight of the ball, opening “more than normal” the face of the club. Instead of playing the ball from right to left with a pull, he made it to fly very smoothly from left to right.

He had never visited Winged Foot before. It was a par 71, 6052 meters. “I liked this type of courses because it was a traditional design, not very long, with many bunkers, very small greens, which was its greatest difficulty, and some dog-legs in both sides. The greens were extremely fast, with many slopes. You have to be very careful in how you play the approach to the green because the slopes were very pronounced. Any distraction could lead to a high score that would leave you out of contention. The course was excellent. I do not remember playing another field in better shape than this. I could look forward to winning the championship.”

Four golfers, Mike Fetchick, Ted Kroll, Charlie Sifford and amateur Bill Trombley, shared the first-round lead at 1–over 71. De Vicenzo was in sixth place with 4-over 74. Julius Boros has shot 73. “I did not start very well. I missed many short putts, I was three strokes behind but I could improve. So I said to myself: “It is not a bad start and there are still 54 holes to go.”

On a steamy second day, Billy Campbell shot a 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Art Wall. Roberto shot 73. With 147 he was three strokes behind. Playing with Boros, he shot 68 on the third round and was already at the top of the leaderboard with two-stroke lead over Wall and five over Boros, Sifford, Kroll and Campbell.

“On the first tee,” said Roberto, “I had a sore throat and I felt pretty bad. (He missed the first Senior Tour stop the previous week due to the flu.) “I thought I was going to shot 85. I’ve got to get myself together. I made a birdie on the par 5, second hole, which lifted my spirit and from that moment on, my game improved with three more birdies for 3-under par on the first 9. It was my best round. For instance, I made only one mistake on the 5th where my second shot with 6-iron ran through the green and I got a bogey.”

A closing 70 provided De Vicenzo a comfortable path to victory. His 1-over 285 total gave him a four-stroke margin over Campbell with Wall another shot behind. He won $20,000 and received the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy, a sterling silver cup that dates to 1894.

“I did not do it so badly for an old man,” he said. “I played the last round with Wall. Art had a concentration similar to Ben Hogan’s. He was immersed in his own game and did not say two words during the round. In the first 9, he came out as I expected: par-birdie-par-birdie. On the 7th, Art was on the green with his second shot about 15 feet from the hole. I missed the green to the right; the ball was in the rough behind a hill. He has gotten one behind but when I holed from that position, he lost his concentration. With nine to play, thus, I was leading by five.”

Roberto lifted the trophy and showed it to the crowd that cheered and applauded him. When he got to the hotel, he took a few calls from the press in Buenos Aires: “Here I am,” he said, “with the trophy in one hand and a check for $ 20,000 in the other.”

De Vicenzo was 57 years, 2 months and 15 days old, which ranks as the second oldest of a Senior Open winner behind Allen Doyle, who was 58 years, 13 days in 2006. The USGA lowered the eligible age for the U.S. Senior Open to 50 for the 1981 championship at Oakland Hills Country Club outside Detroit. Arnold Palmer, 51, prevailed in an 18-hole playoff over Billy Casper and Bob Stone to become the first golfer to capture U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open titles. Jack Nicklaus is the only other person to have achieved the feat.

Claudia Mazzucco

Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005

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