Golf

US Senior Open: Kevin Sutherland savors rare ‘home game’

rpench@sacbee.com

It’s been 28 years since lifelong Sacramentan Kevin Sutherland has slept in his own bed while competing in a golf tournament. That was the 1987 State Fair at Haggin Oaks, shortly before he embarked on a pro career that included 16 consecutive fully exempt PGA Tour seasons, a win at the 2002 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, a World Golf Championship event, and the only 59 in Champions Tour history last July shortly after he turned 50. Sutherland will be the favorite son June 22-28, 2015, at Del Paso Country Club when his home course hosts the U.S. Senior Open. In a wide-ranging conversation, he talks family, tour life and his journey from playing area courses as a youth to a round with Jack Nicklaus.

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I’ve never had a home game as a professional golfer. It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The key for me is managing my expectations to make sure they’re my expectations and not necessarily everybody else’s. That’s going to be easier said than done being that I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with that.

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The tax situation in California isn’t fantastic. (My wife) Mary and I decided early on the price of family and friends is what it is. We decided this is where we want to be. We talked a little bit about moving, but where do you go?

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The thing that people talk most about my career is that I was very consistent. Every year was almost a photocopy of the previous year. When I look back on it, I wish I could have won more tournaments. I wish I was able to break through more often. I had numerous opportunities to win and just wasn’t able to, for various reasons.

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The play on the PGA Tour is better now than when I got on tour in 1996. Guys putt better now than when I first got on tour. Some of it is agronomy. There were a lot of guys on tour back then who were just good ball-strikers who didn’t really putt very well. Those guys don’t exist anymore.

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I think your PGA Tour career is what it is and your Champions Tour career is something different. I understand that they can be lumped together a touch, but I don’t think you can change your PGA Tour career by having some outstanding senior tour career.

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I love golf. I absolutely love it. I enjoy playing it when I’m at home. A lot of times I come home from the road and take a week off. When that week is up, I’m excited to play again.

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My dad started me at Foothill Golf Center when I was 8 years old. We just played golf in the summer. I didn’t play a tournament until I was 15, 16 years old. I realized at that age that I was better at golf than I was at other sports.

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I didn’t have a tremendous junior record. I could shoot under par. I won the NorCal high school tournament. There’s a picture of Scott McCarron and I shaking hands on the last green. I shot a 69. I think he might have shot 70 up at Butte Creek. I have these little OP shorts that come up to right about here. Oh my god, how could my parents let me walk out of the house wearing that?

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I wasn’t really recruited by anybody. I knew I could walk on at Fresno State. I redshirted my first year and I was able to play the next four years and played in four nationals.

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My golf game always progressed in steps. I never made this huge leap. By my senior year, I was second team All-American and started thinking about turning pro, giving it a wing and see where it took me.

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My son (Keaton, 14) asked me the other day, ‘Dad, think I can play the PGA Tour?’ I said I can’t answer that question. Anything is possible. No one thought I would play the PGA Tour when I was 14.

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My brother (David Sutherland was a PGA Tour member from 1997-2004) and I grew up playing at Haggin Oaks. We were part of a bunch of kids over there that would hang out, play golf and hit balls. That was back in the day when we had these junior cards where it cost you 75 cents to play nine holes. Our parents would just drop us off and we would do our thing.

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There’s this perception, especially when David and I were playing the tour together, that we came from this golfing family. That’s really not true. My mom doesn’t play golf. We weren’t members of a country club. My dad at that time would play once a week the six good months a year. The one thing we had was a group of kids in our neighborhood who all played golf. We would all go to the golf course together. That had a bigger impact on us becoming PGA Tour players than the fact we came from this golfing family.

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Things are definitely different now than they were then. The availability is just tougher. It’s more expensive. To become a really top-level golfer, it’s a lot easier to do it at a country club.

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With the exception of my wife, David is my best friend. He’s been my best friend my whole life. There was never any rivalry. I was always his biggest fan and he was my biggest fan. He was always better at golf at the same age. When he was 16 and I was 16, he was better at that age. When he got to college, he was a better freshman golfer than I was a freshman golfer. He got on the tour first, right out of college. He was a tremendous golfer. I have the greatest respect for him as a golfer.

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David and I are very different. When we roomed together in college, I had always had everything in its place. With David, everything was on the floor. He’s a night owl. I’m to bed early. We just had different ways of living life. But we both knew that, so it was no big deal.

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The injury bug hit David really early. He had shoulder issues and he had wrist issues. I know that stifled and slowed down his career. There’s no getting around that.

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I was always a more consistent golfer. Who knows why that is. There’s probably more inconsistent golfers on tour than consistent golfers on tour.

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When I’m home, I’m focused on getting ready to play tournament golf. Even when I’m playing a $5 Nassau at home, it’s not something that drives my focus. You play practice rounds with people on tour, there are some players who always want to have something going and others never have anything going. Gambling has never been a driving force for me.

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The PGA Tour is much more dog-eat-dog than the Champions Tour. Much less camaraderie. There are no entourages on the Champions Tour. When I got done playing the PGA Tour, there were a lot of entourages out there. That’s a lot of people on the driving range every week.

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Every year on the PGA Tour, unless you’ve won a tournament or are Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or one of the highly elite players, you’re always defending your spot on the tour. And there’s always someone who wants your spot. That creates a heightened focus and intensity you don’t get on the Champions Tour. The Champions Tour, you kind of know where you’re going to be next year.

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The vivid recollection I have of the Match Play win is the first match against David Duval when I was 2 down with two holes to play. I birdied 17 and 18 and the second playoff hole. And then I go on to win the tournament. If I par 17, I lose 2 and 1 and it’s a bad week.

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The thing I remember most about the 59 is walking up 18, the way the crowd treated me, the emotion. Nicklaus and Palmer get used to that, walking off the green where people are standing up, clapping just for you. It was emotional. It was like, wow, this is a big deal. That emotion I felt coming off the 18th green was something I had never experienced before. It caught me completely off guard.

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One thing that came out of the 59, Peter Jacobsen said to me, ‘Kevin, I don’t think you know this, but you’re very well respected out here and on the PGA Tour.’ I had not really thought about it, but coming from someone like him, a big name in the game of golf, that meant a lot.

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Jack Nicklaus was the guy to me growing up. I had an opportunity to play with him in the final round of the Memorial, I don’t remember the year. I do remember I double bogeyed 17 and bogeyed 18 the day before and was not happy. When I get done and see that I’m going to play with Nicklaus the next day, it was the best double bogey, bogey finish I’ve ever had. I was so excited. I had never played with him before. It was late in his career, but I felt like I was a pro-am partner. Early in the round I was just watching him walk around the green. It was just a fabulous day.

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Nicklaus was 3 under after eight holes and made a triple on nine, a par-4, after being 25 feet from the hole in two shots. When he got to the next hole, it was as if it didn’t happen. He was grinding just as hard. I play with a lot of guys on tour who would have been done. My perspective was, this is why he was such a great player. His ability to move on and keeping playing.

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I’m definitely more bent over at address than most and have a stronger grip than most. I don’t want to say it’s a homemade swing, but it’s definitely my swing. You’re not going to see too many people copying it.

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I love caddies. When I was on the tour, I would have lunch in the caddie trailer more times than not. The PGA Tour lunchroom can be a little stale. The caddie trailer has all the good stories.

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I don’t have a strong opinion on anchoring. Being that I’ve done both, they’re both hard. It’s not like if you anchor your putter you’re going to start making everything. It’s not this magic bullet. It didn’t happen that way for me, anyway. I don’t look at guys using the belly putter thinking they’re getting away with a lot.

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I’m in good shape. I feel healthy. I’ve lost a little clubhead speed. Sometimes the launch monitor can tell the brutal truth about getting older. It tells you what you are, not what you think you are.

Steve Pajak: (916) 326-5526,

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