Gene Sauers: Your National Champion
The defending champion at the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club will bring a life-and-death story that defies belief; a story that Hollywood’s finest script writers could not create.
Gene Sauers won the rain-delayed 37th U.S. Senior Open Monday, August 15, at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio in dramatic fashion on the final hole for a three-under-par 277 total. Saues defeated “The Most Interesting Man in Golf,” Miguel Angel Jimenez, and the 1987 U.S. Amateur Champion Billy Mayfair.
But the greatest drama in the 53-year-old Sauers’s life came in 2011, leading to one of the most gripping human interest stories – and happy endings -- involving a major champion in golf history.
Sauers in 2005 quit competitive golf, even as he was enjoying a commendable career, with his fourth PGA Tour victory as recent as 2002 at the Air Canada Championship. His first Tour win had come at the Bank of Boston Classic at Pleasant Valley in Sutton, Mass. in 1986.
As he told Ron Driscoll of the United States Golf Association after his first PGA Tour Champions major victory, “I played on the PGA Tour in 2003 and 2004 and I got to just hitting it awful, driving myself crazy, missing putts. I was really fed up with the game. I was about to pull my hair out of my head. After I didn’t finish in the top 125, I said, well, I think this is it. I’m done.”
Fast forward to 2009, when Sauers began having physical issues, which he thought was arthritis. Two years later, when the symptoms worsened and frightening new symptoms emerged, he landed in the hospital for seven weeks. During that time he was told he had been misdiagnosed and that he in fact was afflicted with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that causes the skin on the extremities to burn from the inside out.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be here [in the winner’s circle],” Sauers admitted. “I told my wife while I was in the hospital I didn’t think I was ever coming out. She kept me strong. I’m honored to be here right now.”
Sauers, added of his most difficult times, “I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and I was heading there. The good Lord stopped me and backed me up and said, no, you’re not done yet. It’s just unbelievable to not play golf, not touch a club for seven years and to come out and win a major golf tournament on a hard golf course. I thank the Lord for saving my life.”
Now he’s coming to Salem in 2017 as the defending champion and has a unique link with the legendary Babe Zaharias. Babe came to Salem for the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open in the process of making a remarkable golfing comeback herself. A year earlier she had surgery for colon cancer and the time, her surgeon had told her she would not play championship golf again. Babe proved him wrong by winning the ’54 Open by a jaw-dropping 12 strokes.
Sauers has a history in the Bay State as well. He won his first PGA Tour title, as a 23-year-old, at the Bank of Boston Classic in 1986 at Pleasant Valley Country Club, Sutton MA. He shot 10-under-par 274 and defeated Blaine McCallister with a birdie on the third sudden-death playoff hole.
Thirty years later he can now set his sights on more success on the PGA Tour Champions, including his quest to successfully defend his U.S. Senior Open title at Salem Country Club June 29-July 2 in 2017.
Don’t miss your chance to witness history at the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club as Gene Sauers makes his return to the Bay State. Tickets for this once in a generation event are one sale now and volunteer opportunities are available.
By: Gary Larrabee, Media Liaison, 2017 U.S. Senior Open