Southern Hills Country Club
Credit: Gary Kellner/PGA of America, Gary Kellner

TULSA, Okla. – The 2021 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship returns to a venue well-versed in staging many of golf’s biggest events through the decades – storied Southern Hills Country Club.

Southern Hills, a famous 1930s design by Perry Maxwell, has a rich history of significant championships that range from the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur (won by Babe Zaharias), to the 1958 U.S. Open (Tommy Bolt), to the 2007 PGA Championship, won by Tiger Woods in the searing heat of August.

The victory by Woods in 2007 (he’d also won the previous year) was the fourth time the PGA Championship had visited Southern Hills. Dave Stockton won in 1970; Raymond Floyd won in 1982; Nick Price prevailed in 1994; and Woods won by two shots over Woody Austin in 2007.

This week’s Senior PGA field includes eight former Senior PGA champions, including 2019 champion Ken Tanigawa; seven former PGA Championship winners; nine Ryder Cup captains, including current U.S. captain Steve Stricker; and eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, including Ernie Els, who is competing in the Championship for the first time. Els ranks second behind Bernhard Langer on the 2020-21 Charles Schwab Cup money list. Because of the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 schedule, PGA Tour Champions merged 2020 and 2021 into one super season.

At Southern Hills, players will be tested by a championship layout that has undergone a significant restoration by architect Gil Hanse.

“It’s pretty demanding, and I think the redo, from what I understand, has made it even more demanding,” Stricker said Sunday from the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he played on the weekend.

Stricker played in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills (missed cut) as well as the 2007 PGA, where he tied for 23rd. He nearly got to play in the 1994 PGA, but was an alternate who did not get into the field. Stricker did get to play practice rounds, however, and had a memorable round with Arnold Palmer.

“A lot of runoff areas that they created,” he said. “I heard they took out some trees. I'm excited to see what it's all about, but from the other majors that I've played there, it was always a great test. It won't be any different.

“The PGA has played some great courses on the senior level, on the Champions Tour level, so it's a good test for us, and I'm sure par is going to be a good score there next week.”

Stricker has proven to be a force among the over-50 set. He captured a pair of major championships in 2019 – the Regions Tradition and the U.S. Senior Open – winning by six shots each time. At 54, Stricker owns six PGA Tour Champions victories.

At Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Stricker was encouraged by his ballstriking, but frustrated by his uncharacteristically poor putting. Known as one of the best putters on any tour, Stricker said he struggled mightily on the greens in three of the four rounds at the Ocean Course.

“I'll be fine,” he said on Sunday. “I'm frustrated right now the way I putted. Literally made nothing today. It wasn't fun. It wasn't pretty. But I'll be excited to go and get ready for next week.”

The Senior PGA dates to 1937, with Jock Hutchison winning the inaugural championship at Augusta National Golf Club. By 1940, the event moved to Florida. The Championship was staged at PGA National Golf Club in 1982-2000 (winners included Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino), and in 2001 it started to rotate among national venues. Tanigawa won the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.; no Championship was staged last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One perk that goes to the winner of the championship is a berth in the 2022 PGA Championship, which also will be played at Southern Hills. Thirty-five club professionals advanced to the KitchenAid Senior PGA through their finishes at the 2020 PGA Senior Professional Championship. Leading the way is Omar Uresti, who won by six shots on the PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker and Ryder courses. Uresti, 51, also won this month’s PGA Professional Championship, and represented the Team of 20 that advanced to the 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

When the U.S. Open visited Southern Hills in 1958, renowned architect Robert Trent Jones predicted the winner would be a great shot maker.

“This winner – of the 1948 Open at Southern Hills – will not be a wedge shot artist nor a putting fool,” wrote Jones. “He will be, I can assure you, a complete golfer.”

A great test awaits.

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