And now they’re circling back to the place it all started.
O’Meara and Cook are among the 156 players who’ll tee it up Thursday in the opening round of the 70th Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in suburban Cleveland.
For O’Meara, who won the Masters and British Open in 1998, that championship match three decades ago was a tipping point.
“Look at what’s happened to a guy that grew up at Mission Viejo Country Club washing cars and picking up the range,” said the 52-year-old on Wednesday. “I’ve been very blessed, let’s put it that way. I had my ups and downs but the game has been tremendous to me.”
On that damp and drizzly day at Canterbury, Cook was seeking his second straight Amateur title. He was forced to eight extra holes in the quarterfinals before beating Lennie Clements, then subdued Gary Hallberg to make a return trip to the 36-hole championship match.
Heavily favored to win his second title in a row, the day spiraled out of control.
“By the time I got to Sunday, I kept pressing on the gas pedal but nothing was coming out,” said Cook, 51. “I was done. I was cooked.”
O’Meara ended up winning easily against his friend then and now.
The return to Canterbury has brought back plenty of memories.
“To have won the U.S. Amateur definitely got me started in the right direction,” he said.
Both have gone on to solid, successful careers as pros, O’Meara winning 16 tournaments on the PGA Tour and Cook 11. Now both are considered among the top contenders on the reconfigured 6,896-yard, par-70 Canterbury layout. They’re even in the same group in the first two rounds, playing with 1977 PGA Champion Lanny Wadkins.
Unlike the PGA Tour, where the prevailing opinion is that only a small group might have the experience and savvy to win a major, there is no shortage of possible winners this week. Forty-eight of the top 50 money winners on the Champions Tour are on hand. There are also 23 players who have won a total of 41 major championships, including Tom Watson (8), Hale Irwin and Nick Price (3), Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, O’Meara, Fuzzy Zoeller and Dave Stockton (two apiece).
Dale Douglass, who won a U.S. Senior Open in 1986, is the oldest player at 73. Several of the Champions Tour’s youngest players – those who recently celebrated their 50th birthdays – are considered top contenders.
O’Meara, Cook, Norman, Champions Tour money leader Langer, Loren Roberts and rookies Tom Lehman and Bob Tway – playing in his first tournament since turning 50 on May 4 – all were competitive on the regular tour and have carried it over or are expected to on the senior circuit.
Norman, of course, made a stirring run at the British Open a year ago before finishing in a tie for third. He also was fourth at the U.S. Senior Open, tied for fifth at the Senior British Open and tied for sixth at the Senior PGA at Oak Hill. Those close calls have fueled his desire to capture his first official tour victory of any kind since 1997.
“Any time you’re in contention, you get excited about playing,” said Norman, whose son Gregory will caddie for him while wife Chris Evert watches behind the ropes. “You get on that bike and start riding it and feeling the energy … that’s what we play for. When you get it, it feels great – even at this late stage in your life.”
Tway edged Norman by holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole of the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness Club in Toledo. Now he’s making his major championship debut on the Champions Tour.
He laughed when asked if rookies are hazed. But he did concede that playing in his first senior event last week at the Regions Charity Classic was almost like turning back the clock 30 years.
“It was a different feeling. It felt kind of weird to tell you the truth,” he said. “It felt strange. I don’t know if it felt like I was just starting (out again) or what, but it was different.”