It might have been 1974 but probably it was a year earlier. I was on the practice fairway at Glenelg Golf Club in Adelaide preparing for the Australian Schoolboys Championship and there next to me was a tiny kid with a headful of blond curls smashing six irons. It was my first sighting of Peter Senior and it left a lasting impression.
Impact seemed to coincide, with both feet leaving the air and the ball set off high, far and straight despite the swing being somewhat idiosyncratic. Over the years the familiar pull up off the ball after impact has become one of the most familiar moves in Australian golf and Senior has been an adornment to the local game for – well you can do the maths.
He didn’t really seem to go to high school and he turned pro as a nineteen-year-old at the end of 1978. It’s a well-worn story now but to cut it short his mother had caught him out wagging class and cautioned him his father would be home from work to deal with his recalcitrance.
‘Is this true that you’ve been missing school to play golf?’
Pete admitted it was and waited for the expected punishment.
‘Well’ said his English-born father, ‘you seem to be pretty good at golf so stick with it, work hard and don’t dare tell your mother I said this.’
Quickly in February of 1979 he won the South Australian Open at Glenelg and headed to Europe where he battled away at the Monday qualifying and life on a tour where the weather was hardly Queensland.
Self-taught his method never really failed him but by the end of 1984 he had the most brutal case of the chipping yips. We played at Royal Queensland at the end of the year and after a beautiful long three iron just trickled over the back of the old par 3, 4th hole he took his sand wedge and knifed the most simple of chip shots all the way across the green and twenty meters back down the fairway. It was a truly shocking shot and it wasn’t the last he would hit for the day. By the time he’d reached the 14th the resort position if he missed a green was to take the putter and bash it onto the green from what ever place no matter how preposterously silly the use of a putter.
Just as Bernhard Langer overcame the putting yips by changing his grip so did Senior conquer the chipping ‘heebie-jeebies’ by going cross-handed. It worked somehow and it kept him in the game.
He won all over the world and remarkably won all three ‘Australian Majors’ – the PGA, Masters and Open – after he passed the age where he was old enough to play the Champions Tour.
It was testament to a swing that whilst not aesthetically pleasing was technically excellent and enduring. To anyone who doubts its quality ask yourself how it is possible to win on the professional tour in five different decades. Not even the great Sam Snead managed it.
This week at Royal Sydney is Senior’s last Open. Well, at least he says it is. The blond curls are long gone, replaced in turn by grey then baldness but the swing will still be as recognizable from four fairways across as it ever was. The feet are on the ground now and the ball doesn’t fly as far or as high but he is an amazing lesson in how to play the game and manage a career long after his contemporaries retired to the television booth, pro-shop, course design business or the over-50s tour.