Defending Senior PGA Champion Ken Tanigawa visits Southern Hills for Media Day
Ken Tanigawa, winner of the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, will finally have the chance to defend his title in May after the Championship was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ken Tanigawa, the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Champion, paid a visit to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa ahead of the 2021 Championship, which will take place May 25th through 30th.
Tanigawa won the 2019 title at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. and didn't have the chance to defend last year, as the 2020 Championship was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tanigawa explained just how much it meant to him to hoist the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy in 2019 after overcoming a three-shot deficit in the final round to ultimately defeat Scott McCarron by a stroke.
"I was emotional after picking it up because I realized how heavy it was when I picked it up," he said. "But after that, I think -- there's a lot going on and there's people, so probably she [his wife, Angela] was, I think. I think initially, because she was there to see it unfold. I think it's always more nerve-racking watching, right, because you're kind of out of control of everything. It really didn't sink in until after I remember sitting in the room after with my caddie and Greg and Angela and having that wine and it kind of sunk in, like God, you just pulled this off, and what a win at a tremendous venue kind of like here. It was just amazing."
The 53-year-old Tanigawa spent most of his career on what is now known as the Korn Ferry Tour and also had a stint on the Japan Golf Tour.
He would quit playing professional golf and had his amateur status reinstated, winning several amateur events in Arizona in the mid-2010s.
When Tanigawa qualified as an amateur for the PGA Tour Champions via Q-School in 2018, he decided to turn pro once again. In September 2018, he would win the PURE Insurance Championship on the PGA Tour Champions before claiming his major at Oak Hill the following spring.
At Oak Hill, he needed to hole a 10-footer on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff.
"I knew where I stood," Tanigawa said. "Scott hit a bomb. He hit a great drive down there, so it's one of those holes where if you're not in the fairway you're not going to hit the green. If you're in the rough or in the bunker it's not going to happen, so now you've got to get up-and-down. Of course he hits a great one and I hit a bad one. I flared it out in the bunker. So I knew now it was just a matter of getting it out in the fairway to try to get to a decent number, which I did. I was like 128 or something to the pin, but it was like 135 to that back edge. So the way the green was sloped I knew if I could fly it back there it was going to spin back. Right was no good; it was going to go down, it wasn't going to work. I hit the right number, hit it in the right direction, and it spun back down to where it was an uphill putt. Yeah, fortunately it went in."
Morikawa's stroll around Southern Hills was the first time Tanigawa got a look at the gorgeous Perry Maxwell layout (touched up by Gil Hanse) and it did not disappoint.
"I've heard great things about it," Tanigawa said. "You walk away from a course, and it really did live up to what I expected it to be. I didn't know it was going to be on such a big piece of land, first and foremost, but I'll tell you, off the tee it's great. It's a second-shot course. The greens are challenging. You've got to really know them. It's going to be a tremendous, tremendous test, no doubt about it."
Even the drive into the course left an impression on Tanigawa.
"When I was coming in I was kind of wowed at how big it was," he said. "I didn't know -- it was just so spread out. It was just -- I don't know, somebody said it was maybe 300 acres or something. I didn't expect that. But I did -- that was first what got me was the wow factor.
"The short game facility in the back there and the short game facility out front all looks tremendous. The clubhouse I figured was just going to be a beautiful piece of property, which it is. But yeah, I mean, it is, the course is what I expected it to be. A great venue, tremendously difficult but challenging but fair. You've got to kind of -- you have to hit good shots, and if you hit good shots you'll get rewarded. But it is, it's expected -- I expected it to be what it is, and it lives up to it."
After one look at Southern Hills, Tanigawa is convinced there will be a premium on iron play.
"I think it's definitely a second-shot golf course," he said. "The greens have a lot of movement, a lot of slopes, a little bit of saucer shape around the edges. You've really got to pay attention to that depending on the angles you're coming into the greens, it could accentuate those saucers around the edge. That's where the challenge would be, to learn the greens. It's definitely more of a second-shot golf course. It's got a wide -- it's got a feel where you can let it go. It's wide, but there's trees that are positioned there, but it's not like -- you're going to find your ball, so it's not like you're going to hit it in the hay and it's gone and you've got to hit another one, so you can always chip out or find it, which isn't going to do you any good because of the way the greens are anyway."
When Tanigawa heads back to Tulsa in late May, he'll be looking to become the first player since Colin Montgomerie at French Lick Golf Resort in 2015 to successfully defend the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.