By Ken MacLeod
With his tie for 24th Sunday in the U.S. Senior Open at a difficult Saucon Valley Country Club, Tracy Phillips of Tulsa has notched consecutive top-25 finishes against the top fields in senior golf.
First he tied for 17th in the Kitchenaid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich. He followed that up with another excellent showing in his first USGA championship, all of which leads him to a natural question.
If Phillips could beat many of these same players as a kid, when he was the nation’s top-ranked junior, and can still beat them today as a 59-year-old club professional, maybe he should try to do so on a weekly basis.
The $83,960 he pocketed for the two events doesn’t hurt in the incentive department.
“It’s an intriguing thought and certainly worth a shot,” Phillips said Tuesday. “I’m playing well and confident with where my game is at. I’m going to look into it.”
Phillips was tied for 12th after two rounds of the Senior Open, but said he drove it too often into the thick rough in closing with rounds of 74-72 to finish at 3-over. That put him ahead of players such as Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie, Glen Day, Lee Janzen, Jeff Sluman, V.J. Singh, to name just a few.
The problem is, the Champions Tour is structured to keep those who have name recognition in and those who may be playing better but don’t necessarily sell tickets out. To earn status, Phillips would have to pay $3,000 to enter qualifying school, and then advance through a qualifier into the final stage in December, at which 78 golfers play for five exempt spots for 2023.
Phillips, who splits his time between teaching a group of Tulsa businessmen and teaching at Cedar Ridge Country Club, is encouraged by the journey of fellow club professional Rob Labritz , who went through the process last year, earned his card and just tied for fourth at the U.S. Senior Open. In 12 events this year he has made 11 cuts and has four top-25 finishes.
Last week Phillips played competitive or practice rounds with Colin Montgomerie, John Senden, Willie Wood, Stuart Appleby and Scott Verplank and lunched with Jay Haas, tournament winner Padraig Harrington and others.
“It was just great to be there and get to know those guys a little bit,” Phillips said. “I definitely feel like I could play out there. The U.S. Senior Open is a hard test and I wasn’t close to winning, but I was close enough to be encouraged. My distance off the tee was fine. I played with Monty and could hit it with him or by him. I got some good comparisons. I’d love to hit it 20 yards farther off the tee, but it’s not going to happen.”
Unfortunately the only future reward the two great finishes net Phillips is an exemption into the 2023 PGA Senior Professional Championship, meaning he can bypass a local qualifier. The clock is definitely ticking on a potential run at The Champions Tour, but Phillips is fit and his distance hasn’t diminished. It’s now or never and why not give it a run.