KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Wednesday Notebook: 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 22, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

At majors, it’s win or Els

Ernie Els has done about everything a player can do in the game, winning a pair of Opens – U.S. and British – on both sides of the pond, and that’s why he already is enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Els has many irons in the fire these days – running a large foundation to help those with autism, Presidents Cup assistant captain, pitchman – his company even has dog treats – and golf course architect, with projects all over the world. But it is his golf that still drives him.

Els, 54, won four major titles while competing on the PGA Tour. And now that he is on PGA Tour Champions, he would like to win majors there, as well. He has yet to break through to do it, but was encouraged by his play two weeks ago at the Regions Tradition, where he was third.

What would winning a senior major win to the big South African?

“It would be great,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of tries now, I haven’t really played that well. I feel I really want to start doing something now. I feel that my game is coming around really nicely. I just love playing with these guys.”

This week marks Els’ second visit to Harbor Shores, where two years ago he had the best showing among the three KitchenAid Senior PGA Championships he has played, a tie for 15th. He knows what to expect from the golf course this week.

“Nicklaus courses,” he said, “it’s risk/reward a lot, especially on second shots. If the shot comes off, you look great. And if you keep being overly aggressive and it doesn’t come off, you can make some numbers.”

Els plays at 8:10 a.m. on Thursday alongside the Presidents Cup captain he will serve, Mike Weir, and Darren Clarke.

Knocking the rust off

Ireland’s Paul McGinley will make a scheduled appearance on the air for Golf Channel on Thursday morning before the start of the 84th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, which is nothing new for him. At 1:57 p.m., he will be on the 10th tee to play the first round – now, that will be different for him.

“It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure,” said McGinley, who spends far more time doing television these days than he does playing. “I’ve played one tournament in 12 months ... so it’s a big step up for me.”

McGinley, a winner on the DP World Tour and a European stalwart as a player and captain, says there are pros and cons to commentating when it comes to how it helps his game.

Are there times it can help? “In terms of the positivity, because you are seeing so many brilliant golf shots, absolutely,” he said. “And you’re also seeing the mistakes – they become clear because the standard is so good.”

McGinley played Valhalla Golf Club on Monday before getting on his way from Louisville to Benton Harbor on Monday, and could not believe how difficult the golf course was. He realizes most of the people who watched him and others describe the action on television probably see it differently, as Xander Schauffele won with a record score (21 under par), and Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau both reached 20 under at a major.  

“It’s an unrelatable game to what we play, even out here on the Champions Tour,” he said. “I played Valhalla Monday ... it’s an absolute monster. The guys hit it so far now, they just wrestle the golf course to its knees, no matter how long it is or tough it is set up.”

McGinley is here in Michigan for one reason: He got into golf in the first place to play it, and playing remains his first love.  

“These are all my friends I played with on the main tour, both European and American,” he said. “When I see them all, it’s like going back to a school reunion. ... Anyway, it’s nice to be a golfer again. It’s what I still love to do more than anything.”

At qualifying, Dunlap sped right on by

Scott Dunlap is remembering there are some great perks to winning again, something he last had done 10 years ago. Dunlap, 60, captured the Insperity Invitational, which was shortened by rain. Winning is winning, and he knows as well as anyone that it is not easy to do.

Dunlap has won all over the world. He played on the PGA Tour for years, but never won. So in essence, every time he teed it up he was doing so to keep his job, needing to earn a card one year in order to play the next.

His victory at Insperity will keep Dunlap exempt on PGA Tour Champions through the end of next year, which takes him until he will be 62. That is a great relief to the lifetime journeyman.

“For me, it’s a new lease on life,” he said on the practice tee at Harbor Shores. “I never ever won on Tour, so I never have ever had the luxury of ‘another’ year. I would be the end of this year, and top 125 (to keep a PGA Tour card), or top 36 (Champions Tour), and then you got the next year. I never got the end of the ‘next’ year to play towards.”

Dunlap lives in Sarasota, Florida, and was scheduled to compete in U.S. Senior Open qualifying on Monday in Ocala, Florida, on his way to Michigan for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. The U.S. Senior Open will be played at Newport Country Club; Dunlap has heard great things, but never played it.

His victory in Houston, however, exempted him into the U.S. Senior Open. No qualifier necessary.

“I drove by the exit (in Ocala) doing 85 mph on Sunday night,” Dunlap said, laughng. “I’m in, and the next two, then two years in Hawaii (at the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai ... I mean, it’s crazy.”