Date: March 17, 2014
Author: Martin Blake /

Champ Senden proves he can do it

John Senden has always operated on a slow burn. A member of the PGA Tour of the United States since 2002, he won the John Deere Classic in July 2006 and then had to wait an agonising eight years, until today, for his next triumph in America. It was his 345th start on tour. At 42, the Queenslander chipped in at the 16th then birdied the 17th from seven metres at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Tampa Bay, Florida, to set up his win the Valspar Championship by a shot from American Kevin Na. His previous tournament victory anywhere had been the Australian Open at Royal Sydney at the end of 2006. Back then, Senden hit two peerless iron shots to make birdies at the 17th and 18th holes at Royal Sydney to close out his national Open brilliantly, and it had the feel of a watershed moment for him, perhaps a turning point for a player who had been thereabouts for a while. But he returned to grinding away straight afterward, making lots of cuts and plenty of money but finding it difficult to finish what he started, and his 2013 season was dogged by rib and wrist injuries that saw his world ranking plummet outside the top 100. Senden&aposs lot is typical of the idiosyncrasies of golf, the most confounded of games. He is as pure a ball-striker as there is on tour, but his putting does not usually match the quality of his long game and he has had mental demons to combat, as well. Four times he has been a runner-up on the PGA Tour wedged in between those two wins; he has spent countless hours working on his mindset, trying to stay in the present, play shot-by-shot and lock out negativity. But for all that, the high end of his game is simply outstanding. He has more than $16 million in prizemoney on the US Tour to say that he is one of this country&aposs finest players. The difference this week was his putting. He bombed three 10-metre putts during his third-round 64 that pushed him into contention, and the flat stick worked well again today. A recent session with friend and fellow-Queenslander Ian Baker-Finch, who often helps Senden with his short game, may well have helped a lot. “With all the good quality players out here on the PGA TOUR, the young guys coming up now, you&aposve really got to do everything great, I believe, to win,&apos&apos he said. “And look, I&aposve been doing a lot of things great but it&aposs about continuing to believe that I can actually do it.&apos&apos There was an irony in the manner of his win, since it came from short game prowess despite his reputation for long-game excellence. It was highlighted by a chip-in birdie at the par-five 16th after he had driven into the trees. “I felt (I hit) a really good second shot to get in in some sort of position near the green and then walking up to the shot I just had felt like okay, &aposI need to hit a really good shot here to get this up and down and try to have a chance to do something down the stretch as well&apos. Then (I) just got up there and just let it go and hit it and I thought it come out well, it&aposs going to be in a reasonably good spot. It disappeared, was amazing. It felt good.&apos&apos Even at the last, he needed to two-putt from long range to keep Kevin Na, in the following group, at bay. Senden rolled his right-to-left swinger up to a few centimetres from the cup, apparently nerveless, and watched on television as Na, needing birdie at the 18th for a playoff, could only make par. The Queenslander, always smiling, hugged his coach and mentor Ian Triggs, a true believer in his game. While he welcomed the win, he still rates the John Deere triumph his finest moment in America. “The John Deere Classic was special. It was my first PGA Tour event win, and that will always be fantastic but, you know, beating a field (here) is probably higher in ranking and full FedExCup Points. “It is something that makes you believe more that you can get it done again rather than, you know, just once, and thinking back then in &apos06, was it something out of the flash in the pan? I don&apost believe so. But now it feels like … it makes me feel (I) consolidated from the John Deere.&apos&apos Senden is in his 15th season in America. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Jackie and son Jacob, just around the corner from his great friend and fellow-Queenslander Rod Pampling, who has lost his card for the main tour and is battling on the secondary Tour. That Senden is still competing and winning in his 40s on a tour of this quality is quite something. He scores an exemption on Tour to the end of 2016 and an invitation to Augusta National for the Masters tournament, the fourth Australian to make the field after Adam Scott, Jason Day and Oliver Goss, the brilliant Western Australian amateur. Augusta has not been a happy hunting ground for Senden. In four previous visits he made the cut just once, when he finished 35th in 2013, but it will scarcely stop him from loading up again. “Augusta is one of the greatest tournaments ever and to get back there again this year will be fantastic, it&aposs amazing,&apos&apos he said. “It&aposs just a dream come true to get back there again and, you know, whatever else comes with it as well which is, you know the PGA Championship and the British Open, the big tournaments coming up. So I can reset the schedule a little bit more and — but also take some confidence from the win and keep believing that I can produce this form to give myself a chance to get the ultimate dream possibly of winning a major championship.&apos&apos The 42-year-old earned US$1,026,000 for the victory. SCORES: 1 John Senden -7 2 Kevin Na -6 3 Scott Langley -5 T4 Will MacKenzie -4 T4 Luke Donald -4 T4 Robert Garrigus -4 7 George McNeill -3 T8 Graham Delaet -2 T8 Gary Woodland -2 T8 Matt Every -2 T8 David Hearn -2 T8 Matteo Manassero -2 T8 Justin Rose -2