Catching up with mates and then kicking their butts. That’s the strategy that Robert Allenby intends to employ as he makes his Champions Tour debut at this week’s Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale Golf Club in London.
A four-time winner on both the European Tour and the PGA TOUR, Allenby celebrated his 50th birthday on July 12 and has wasted no time in joining the senior circuit, returning to the course that he called home when he was based in Europe in the mid-1990s.
A week after Collin Morikawa’s stirring victory in The Open Championship at Royal St George’s some of the game’s greatest names have arrived at Sunningdale, including former Open champions Tom Lehman, Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Paul Lawrie and defending Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer.
Allenby is one of three Aussies in the field along with Peter Fowler and David McKenzie with Michael Long topping qualifying to join Michael Campbell as Kiwis who are teeing it up.
Allenby reacquainted himself with the Sunningdale layout in a practise round with Campbell on Monday, spent Tuesday playing with McKenzie and is linking up again with Campbell and Fowler on Wednesday, excited to see familiar faces and get the competitive juices flowing again.
“I’d like to do both. Definitely both,” Allenby said of his debut on the senior circuit.
“I’m not going to expect too much but at the same time I know the competitiveness is deep down in there. You don’t lose that. I just want to feel my way out and see what happens.
“The thing that I was looking forward to the most was just playing golf with my old buddies again.
“I’ve been playing with these 21-year-olds that hit it 500 miles and don’t talk to you… It’s just a different era.
“I’m going back into the era where everyone was a character, knew how to have fun but also played some serious golf.
“I’m super excited to play and get a second chance at another career. It’s pretty cool.”
A troublesome back injury that required two cortisone injections and an epidural two months ago is still causing Allenby some discomfort.
It has hampered his recent play on the Korn Ferry Tour in the US– including having to withdraw from the Knoxville Open in May – but he believes a return to the classical Sunningdale layout serves as the perfect introduction to the Champions Tour.
“I went and played in Denver on the Korn Ferry a couple of weeks ago and it was the longest course I’ve ever played in my life,” said Allenby, who played The Open Championship 20 times between 1991 and 2012.
“It was nine yards short of 8,000. I played a par 5 that was 773 yards long. One day I hit driver, 3-wood, 5-iron. I hit a drive in the tournament 373 yards and still had 400 to go.
“The first hole at Sunningdale is the shortest par 5 I’ve ever played. I hit driver, 6-iron yesterday and I was thinking, This is pretty cool.
“All the way through the ‘90s when I lived just around the corner from Sunningdale this was where I used to come and play and practise all the time.
“I played it yesterday for the first time in 20 years and it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.
“The course is great. The greens are great, fairways are awesome, the whole design is still amazing.”
Celebrating his birthday last week in the US with 30 close friends including Ian Baker-Finch and Brad Faxon, Allenby conceded that given some of the predicaments he has found himself over the years that it was a milestone worth celebrating.
“I think given the past year any time you can get together with friends it’s worth celebrating,” said Allenby.
“It’s not every day you turn 50. Never thought I’d make it, quite frankly.
“My ex-wife Sandy sent me a note saying, ‘Happy 50th. To be honest, I never thought you’d ever make it.’
“I’ve always lived my life living for today, not for tomorrow. You only have one opportunity.
“That’s why I’ve always been the fun guy. I might get myself into trouble a few times but I’ve got one chance at it and I’m going to make the most of it.
“This is another opportunity to start all over again, play with my mates and have fun playing golf.
“I’m looking forward to getting myself back in the groove and playing some golf.”