Australian veteran and three-time PGA Tour winner Rod Pampling has no time to reflect on his long career on the main tour. Not with his Champions Tour chapter about to begin.
The look on Brooks Koepka’s face said it all.
Who the hell is this guy?
The scene was TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas in November 2016 – back when Brooks Koepka was not yet Brooks Koepka. But Rod Pampling was Rod Pampling. And it wasn’t the first time he’d thwarted a great player.
This would be the last time ‘Pamps’ would pull it off, but boy was it a beauty. On the 72nd hole of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Pampling drained a 32-foot birdie putt [below] – that he celebrated about a foot early – to win by two shots over Koepka. The American’s humiliation was later captured in an hilarious GIF image of Pampling – 47 at the time – raising both arms in celebration as a dejected Koepka stared in disbelief in the background.
Seven months later, Koepka would win the US Open. Then he’d win the next US Open, and capture the US PGA Championship two months later, before successfully defending the Wanamaker Trophy in May this year. In July, he created a Tiger Woods-like lead atop the world rankings with an easy World Golf Championships victory in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I must have done something to annoy him, because he has really worked hard and went on to win four Majors and a WGC,” Rod Pampling laughs over the phone to Australian Golf Digest.
“I think he should throw me a little something?”
Timing Is Everything
Calboolture’s Rod Pampling showed that week there was fight left in the old dog. He opened the tournament with an 11-under par 60 and, on Sunday, held off Koepka. Since then, Koepka has locked up a Hall of Fame membership with decades remaining in his career.
“That was a bonus; obviously. Brooks has continued to play amazing golf, but it’s always nice to have a win while beating someone who is now No.1 in the world,” Pampling says.
“Brooks (Koepka) has continued to play amazing golf, but it’s always nice to have a win while beating someone who is now No.1 in the world.” – Rod Pampling
But holding off Koepka wasn’t the best part of Pampling’s third victory on the PGA Tour. It was the timing of it.
Given the Las Vegas event was near the beginning of the 2016-’17 season, he became exempt for the remainder of that season before a two-year exemption for the win kicked in. It gave Pampling PGA Tour status right up until August this year. Conveniently, Pampling turns 50 on September 23 and will begin his career on the PGA Champions Tour for US seniors.
“Vegas was huge; it gave me a card all the way through to the seniors and the timing of that was amazing,” Rod Pampling recalls. “It certainly made the past few years a bit easier. It took me right through to 50. Whenever you win anywhere, it is special, but the timing was just unbelievable.”
But it’s not to say stalling Koepka wasn’t enjoyable. And it wasn’t the first time Pampling had done it. Pampling’s second victory on the PGA Tour came at Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida in 2006. Apart from California’s Torrey Pines (South) course, Bay Hill has been Tiger Woods’ happiest hunting ground – with eight career wins there. And in 2006, Woods was hunting.
Woods had ended 2005 with a victory in Japan before winning his first two events of 2006. Woods would make it four wins in six starts when he captured the Ford Championship at Doral before arriving at Bay Hill in Orlando.
But Pampling was the best man that week.
“Winning at Mr Palmer’s place was definitely my career highlight; getting to shake his hand and then attend some of the champions dinners in the years after,” Pampling says. “But it was also cool because I sort of interrupted a great stretch of Tiger’s; he had won five of his previous 10 events. Tiger was there that week, which made it even cooler.
“Besides the Majors, you put Bay Hill, as well as (the Jack Nicklaus-hosted) Memorial Tournament and Colonial (unofficially Ben Hogan’s event in Texas) as the biggest events you want to win.”
Pampling played his last event as a fully fledged PGA Tour member at the Wyndham Championship in August, the last event of the regular season.
It was Pampling’s 403rd start on the PGA Tour, his career spanning 18 full seasons on the world’s richest and toughest golf circuit. There were only two seasons (2014 and 2015) when the Queenslander played fewer than 15 events due to a lack of status. Even then, he won the 2015 BMW Charity Pro-Am on the previously named Web.com Tour to lock up a promotion back to the big dance in 2016. And we know what he did in 2016.
“I guess the longevity is what I’m most proud of,” Pampling reflects. “I’ve been out here a long, long time.
“I don’t know what the average career is, but there aren’t many guys in recent times who have stayed out this long. To be fully exempt for as many seasons as I did was very satisfying.”
“I don’t know what the average career is, but there aren’t many guys in recent times who have stayed out this long.” – Rod Pampling
Rod Pampling turns 50 later this month. There’ll likely be a big bash in his adopted home of Dallas, Texas. But the partying won’t last long before he’s back at work.
Pampling will make his PGA Tour Champions debut at the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California in late September. The event is a unique pro-am in that it is an official PGA Tour Champions event in which every group is comprised of one pro, one junior and two amateurs. Seventy-eight junior spots are awarded, eight of which are exemptions given through the First Tee foundation’s Monterey Peninsula arm.
“We’re very spoilt the courses we get to play as pros in the US, but Pebble Beach is one of the top courses in the world,” Pampling says.
Since winning in Las Vegas, Pampling struggled to keep up with the seemingly endless wave of 20-something players who drive the ball 300 metres and putt well. In the 64 events he played in his last three season on tour, Pampling made just 29 cuts.
He’s looking forward to the next stage of his career and believes playing with pros with a similar ability will be refreshing.
“Definitely looking forward to the next step. When you’re not playing among the bigger galleries on the PGA Tour, it’s not hard to get up but it is harder,” he admits. “When galleries are watching you and you’re playing good, it boosts you. I guess going to the Champions Tour, the galleries will come back around again if I play well.
“On the PGA Tour, there are so many young players that the galleries want to follow and you get overlooked. That’s definitely understandable.
“Unless you’re up there among the final groups on the weekend, you don’t get the hype from the fans and that’s what I enjoy. So, that’s the goal for the Champions Tour – get out there, play good and have some crowds.”
But Pampling knows it is not a given to play well on the Champions Tour, even for pros fresh off the PGA Tour. Not with Bernhard Langer dominating the senior tour and its Majors, or regular contenders such as Retief Goosen, Jerry Kelly, David Toms and Steve Stricker. “The guys still shoot really low out there. You have to stay confident and stay positive,” Pampling says.
Pampling will rely on his ability to go ultra-low when swinging it well. A year before Pampling’s 60 in Las Vegas, he shot a 10-under par 61 at The Australian Golf Club during the final round of the 2015 Australian Open.
Pampling is hoping to see some of those low scores come back, given regular Champions Tour events – those outside the five senior Majors – are 54-hole events with no 36-hole cut.
“Going low like that is about being mentally strong; once you get on these rolls, you just have to get out of your own way and not be defensive,” he says.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that often these days but I think on the Champions Tour those rolls might come more frequently again. The courses are a little shorter and the pins are not as severe.”
Pampling performed reasonably well in the four Majors on the main tour, the best being a tie for fifth at the 2005 Masters, as well as top-15 results at the US Open and PGA Championship and a tie for 27th at the British Open. But he’s set his sights on winning a senior Major.
“The Majors weren’t great for me on the men’s tour, but in the senior Majors I’ll have so much more experience,” he says. “You see guys you played well against on the PGA Tour and now they’re doing well at the senior Majors and it gives you that belief. That’s the next challenge; to win a senior Major would be huge.”