Despite being the oldest player in the field at last week’s SBS Tournament of Champions, 47-year-old Rod Pampling didn’t feel out of place. Age isn’t an issue for the gritty Queenslander, as he proved in November on the 72nd hole of the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open in Las Vegas.
In the final group with powerful Brooks Koepka and former US Open champion Lucas Glover, Pampling wanted to show to more than just himself that he still had it. With a one-stroke lead on the 72nd hole at TPC Summerlin, the 451st-ranked golfer in the world faced a 32-foot birdie putt, which he started walking in when it was a metre from the hole, thrusting his arm triumphantly when it dropped.
Though his previous US PGA Tour victory had been 221 starts ago, at the 2006 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Pampling, who had shot 60 in the first round, felt like being the veteran in that situation gave him the advantage.
“I was not saying, Wow, I’m just a tag along here, and let’s see if I get lucky,” Pampling told me last week between rounds at Kapalua. “I know playing as well as I was, you could see they had pressure on them. I had such good control, I was seeing how they were reacting to different things. Brooks hadn’t won in 2016, and for Lucas it has been a few years since he won. Everyone else was under the gun as well. When I made that putt, I was able to tick off a box. I never made a putt to win a tournament.”
The win put Pampling – who primarily played the Web.com Tour in 2014 and 2015 before earning his US Tour card again for 2016 – back into the big time. He now has exempt status on tour for two years and spots in Maui and the Masters in 2017. It also means he’ll have a running start when he becomes eligible for the PGA Tour Champions in 2019.
One thing Pampling prided himself on is that even when he lost his game, he never lost his tenacity. Had he not won in Las Vegas, Pampling says he would have been home in the Dallas suburbs last week, hoping to get into this week’s Sony Open.
“Some guys [my age] lose a little bit of interest in the game of golf,” Pampling said. “But I still love the game. It’s still exciting to hit good golf shots. In this game we have the opportunity to beat the young fellows. It’s nice that you’re not just a number, that you can still play the game.”
Pampling credits improvement on his game to instructor Alex Murray, a disciple of the veteran’s former long-time instructor, fellow Queenslander Gary Edwin. Murray also works with Stanford University senior Maverick McNealy, the McCormack Medal winner given to the top-ranked amateur in the world, which has made for some friendly young lion/old lion matches at the Cardinal golf course. Mentally, Pampling relies on his wife, Angela, a sport psychologist he met on a blind date in Brisbane in the late 1990s.
The teamwork paid off in Las Vegas. “It wasn’t like a magical thing that week,” Pampling said of his third US Tour win (he came to Hawaii with 38 top-10s in 342 career starts). “It was doing work we’re supposed to do every week.”
Pampling backed up the victory with a T-4 in the Australian Open and a T-14 in the Australian PGA, increasing his confidence going into the ToC, where he finished T-17 in a 32-man field. Before the trip to Kapalua, the Pamplings enjoyed 12 days on the beach in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast and Christmas with family in Brisbane.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Pampling said. “It still feels damn good.”