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Championship Preview Day

The official countdown to Championship Week for the 38th U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club got under way Monday with the “Championship Preview Day,” featuring defending champion Gene Sauers.

 The staging of the U.S. Senior Open, Salem’s sixth USGA championship spanning 85 years, is now six weeks away, with the $4 million, 72-hole championship running June 29 to July 2, with three practice rounds taking place June 26-28.

 “It’s been an absolutely awesome experience, living the life of the reigning national champion for the last 11 months,” Sauers told the gathering of nearly 100 media, USGA and Salem Country Club officials. Monday before taking his first playing tour of the famed Donald Ross layout with host professional Kevin Wood, Honorary Chairman Ray Bourque, the National Hockey League Hall of Famer and Salem member and Super Bowl champion placekicker Stephen Gostkowski from the New England Patriots.

 “To have my name etched on that (Francis D. Ouimet) Trophy is something I will always have. I still sometimes wonder how I almost died and then came back after not touching a club for seven years and found enough game to win the U.S. Senior Open. “

 Sauers’ heart-warming story has been well documented since his one-stroke victory over Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez last June at Scioto Country Club outside Columbus, Ohio. He was glad to recount it at Championship Preview Day. He was so befuddled with his golf game by the end of 2004 that he quit playing cold turkey on the PGA Tour after winning four Tour events between 1986 and 2002.

 Having not touched a club in five years, he started experiencing what he thought were symptoms of arthritis. Two years later his symptoms worsened. He was misdiagnosed, given a 25 percent chance of survival. He was finally diagnosed correctly at Duke University Medical Center with a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that causes the skin on the extremities to burn from the inside out.

 “I played a lot of golf in my head those last few weeks in the hospital,” Sauers said at Championship Preview Day. After a three-month recovery period at home, Sauers ventured back out on the course, birdied three of his final four holes in his very first round, in 100 degree weather, and realized, as he said, “I’ve got to give this game another shot.”

 He finished second to Colin Montgomerie at the 2014 U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Oklahoma, and two years later pared the final hole to edge Jimenez by a shot. Gene Sauers, at 53, was all the way back.

 “I’m grateful I had this second chance at championship golf at the highest level,” Sauers said.

 Sauers had the keynote comments during the 40-minute program, which included remarks by Bourque; Matt Sawicki, Director, USGA Championships; Ben Kimball, Director, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur Championships, and the Walker Cup Match; Bill Sheehan, General Chairman, and Brian DePasquale, Manager, USGA Championships Communications.

 Bourque lauded Sauers on his remarkable comeback leading to his capturing of the 2016 U.S. Senior Open, labeling his accomplishment “incredible.” You’re so tough, Gene, you could have been a (professional) hockey player. It took me 23 years to win the (Stanley) Cup. I can appreciate what you golfers have to go through to win a major championship like the U.S. Senior Open.”

 Sheehan expressed the Salem Country Club membership’s pride and joy in being able “to share this great golf course in this manner; to be able to give back to the game in this fashion.”

 Following one-on-one interviews and lunch, the attendees enjoyed an afternoon of golf on the U.S. Senior Championship course.

 By: Gary Larrabee, Media Liaison, 2017 U.S. Senior Open