Catching John Cook on the 72nd hole, unassuming Kansan Bruce Vaughan chewed to a Senior British win in overtime
THE FIRST rule for Senior British Open champions is ditch your gum before the victory interview. Bruce Vaughan followed that rule on Sunday in Troon, Scotland, plucking some well-worked chicle from his mouth and pitching it into the bushes only seconds before he was handed the trophy on live TV. Vaughan's response to the interviewer's first question? "Wow!"
So it was official: A Yank had won the Senior British for the seventh time in its 22-year history. Unlike defending champion Tom Watson, however, the sandy-haired Vaughan is an American that even Americans haven't heard of. He was a fireman in Hutchinson, Kans., when he took up golf 30 years ago, and his biggest wins before Sunday were two Nationwide tour victories and South Africa's Autopage Mount Edgecombe Trophy. Nevertheless, Vaughan treated venerable Royal Troon as if it were his hometown Cottonwood Hills course, fending off the challenges of three Hall of Famers (Watson, Bernhard Langer and Greg Norman) and an animated Argentine (Eduardo Romero) before beating American Tour veteran John Cook in a one-hole playoff.
The loss was painful for Cook, who famously led by a stroke with two holes to play in the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield, only to hand the title to Nick Faldo by three-putting the 17th. This time the Ohio native led by one with two to play and three-putted the 18th—although, to be fair, Cook's first putt was from 15 yards out in the fairway.
"I was surprised that he putted it," said Vaughan. Surprised, but grateful. After canning his own three-footer for par to forge a tie, Vaughan stunned Cook in the playoff by holing a 20-footer for birdie. Cook, who had taken a dangerous line to the flag to get close, had to sink a 12-footer to stay alive. That, alas, he could not do.
"I don't know what to say," Vaughan said at the greenside trophy ceremony. "It's unfortunate for John. I know he wanted this pretty bad. But so did I." When asked if he saw his victory as a tribute to his mother, Maxine, who died in a car crash in Kansas two months ago, Vaughan could only swallow hard and fight back tears.
Vaughan was less emotional about the $315,600 he earned at Troon, his biggest paycheck as a pro. "Money is great," he said, "but until you win, you're just another player." Neither was he worked up over his automatic exemption into this week's U.S. Senior Open in Colorado Springs. In fact, he figured he'd skip that Open and go ahead with the vacation that he had planned with his wife, Beverly, and their 15-year-old son, Brett. Said Vaughan, "I think I'll sit up there in the mountains and have fun."
And maybe chew some gum.