The Edmond Sun

Sports

July 13, 2014

Sauers runs gamut of emotions

EDMOND — Not the blistering Oklahoma heat on a very difficult Oak Tree National course, nor slipping from a 54-hole lead of three strokes with a final 18 over par by two strokes on the final day. Not even the disappointing loss to Colin Montgomerie in the three-hole playoff.

None of these dismayed 51-year-old Gene Craig Sauers Sunday as he wore the runner-up medal for the U.S. Senior Open and accepted his runner-up check.

He’s suffered through a lot worse.

Sauers was born in Savannah, Ga., and started playing golf at age nine. He was good enough to play for Georgia Southern University in Statesboro and then turned pro and joined the PGA TOUR in 1984.

He has four dozen top-10 finishes in PGA TOUR events including three official wins, but had to put his career on hold in 2006 after he was diagnosed with a rare, painful skin condition Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and he was given only a 25-percent chance of survival.

His condition had worsened when blood vessels in his arms and legs clogged, causing his skin to burn from the inside out. Although he eventually recovered after many debilitating months, his forearms show the scars of numerous skin grafts. He finally overcame the disease and played a limited Nationwide Tour schedule in 2011 and 2012 before making his Champions Tour debut at the 2012 Boeing Classic.

Golf is just a game, they say. Of course, it is also an occupation for some of us but it is not a matter of life or death. I’ve been there, I know about that,” he said Sunday.

Sauers was the only golfer in the Senior Open field to post sub-par scores the first three rounds. But he followed up rounds of 69, 69 and 68 with a 73 Sunday to finish at 279. Montgomerie, who started the final round four strokes back, finished strong with a 69 to match Sauers’ total of 279.

A playoff would not have been necessary if Sauers had made a birdie putt on the 18th hole that would’ve won the championship. It hit the lip and curled out.

“Yeah, I just didn’t play enough break. I knew it was going to go a little bit to the right, but I knew if I got it outside the hole I thought it was going to stay straight. I hit a good putt, and of course it lipped out. I wish I would have gave it just a little bit more break. Hindsight, you know,” he said.

Starting at No. 16, both bogeyed the hole, but on No. 17, Sauers bogeyed again after putting his tee shot on the par 3 into the bunker left. Montgomerie made par and took a one-shot lead in the playoff.

Both players missed the green with their approaches on No. 18. Montgomerie’s chip from the thick rough came up well short, and when Sauers stuck his within a couple feet, it looked as if Sauers might get that shot back and the playoff might continue. But Montgomerie sank the putt to win the title.

Sauers, who hadn’t won a tournament since 2002, was disappointed in falling short of his first major title. But he still found more positives than negatives.

“I’m proud of the way I played,” he said. “Yes, I would like to take home that trophy. “One day, I will.”

How did it feel to be sandwiched between a couple of legends, (Langer and Montgomerie) who were virtually co-favorites to win any Senior event?

“I have played a lot with Bernhard, played a few times with Colin but not a lot. That didn’t really affect me much. I was just trying to concentrate on my game and do what I had to do. That’s all I really tried to do.

“Colin is a great guy. He’s won a lot of tournaments around the world. So has Bernhard. You know, Bernhard kind of shocked me a little bit today, what he shot today.

“But, you know, coming down the stretch, you know, on 16 I should have made that putt. I wish I would have made that putt and things would have been different. I’m glad to have the opportunity,” he said.

“I have been hard on myself throughout my whole career. What happened to me, I don’t take life for granted anymore. I’m not going to take golf for granted. Just go do what I got to do and focus and go on from there. I feel good about my game right now and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”

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