There have been improbable victories in golf, and certainly, in major championship history. The sport is the most unpredictable. Look, even, at Phil Mickelson’s triumph at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island on Sunday.

But Ken Tanigawa knew there was something special cooking at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2019. Especially on Sunday he was calm, cool, and collected – and he left with the trophy in hand.

“Overall, it was surprising in that sense, especially coming down the stretch. I thought I’d be a lot more uptight than I was,” said Tanigawa on Tuesday from Southern Hills.

Tanigawa, who had played only four senior major championships prior to last year’s KitchenAid Senior PGA, said he remembered seeing Jay Haas prior to teeing it up at the final round two years ago and Haas said to him that par was going to be a good score.

“I think knowing that you didn't have to make a ton of birdies, you just kind of hang in there, make pars, and I kind of kept that in the back of my mind because I missed some birdies in the round early, and you're like, ‘oh, shucks, missed an opportunity.’ I kind of remembered that,” said Tanigawa. “I think that kind of helped knowing, ‘hey, you can just make pars and hang in there and grit it out.’”

Grit it out he did, winning the 2019 edition of the KitchenAid Senior PGA by one over Scott McCarron – this after coming into the final round three shots back of the lead.

The event wasn’t held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it returns to the schedule for 2021, with Tanigawa as the defending champion. Although he admitted that nothing much has changed in his life other than everything going on outside of golf, he said it was a “nice validation” to know that he could win at such a high level on a “tremendous” golf course like Oak Hill.

“Just the confidence-wise to say, ‘hey, I can play against the best of this demographic, on this Tour, on the PGA Tour Champions or the Senior PGA Championship,’ I think that was the biggest part,” said Tanigawa. “You always feel like you can (win) if your game is good enough, but until you actually execute you don't really know. It was a tremendous and nice validation for me as a golfer.”

Tanigawa, who holed a slippery 10-footer on the 18th hole of Oak Hill’s East Course in 2019 to win, has essentially been a career amateur. Although he was successful in his home state of Arizona, he played professional golf only in 2003. He regained his amateur status back not long after and has continued to compete at a high level.

His KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship win was his second on the over-50 circuit, the first coming in 2018 after holing a 35-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th at Pebble Beach.

Now, though, he’s a senior major champion. He’ll be serving two kinds of filet mignon plus sushi, “good wine,” jasmine rice, vegetables, and some “fun” desserts at the Champions dinner, and he’ll look to win the KitchenAid Senior PGA, again, at a place with a ton of history.

“You walk in the clubhouse in the hall there and you see all the trophies and all the pictures of all the past champions and everybody that's been here. It's tremendous,” said Tanigawa of Southern Hills’ history. “It's always a fun and incredible opportunity to play at a venue where you know so many past players have played and all the great champions that have won here. It's certainly a special feeling for sure.”

It was a special feeling in 2019, and now Tanigawa is looking for even more of the same in 2021.

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