By Kevin Prise
PITTSBURGH -- Wednesday evening, Joe Durant fell asleep during the final game of the College World Series. He woke up happy though, when he saw Vanderbilt -- his pre-tournament pick and his niece's alma mater -- was the champion.
Durant carried his good mood into the Senior Players Championship, where he opened with a six-under 64 at Fox Chapel GC to claim a share of the 18-hole lead. Having turned 50 in April to qualify for senior play but also carrying PGA Tour status via last year's Web.com Tour Finals, Durant is the latest player to simultaneously compete on both the PGA and Champions tours.
This is Durant's fifth senior event, and he has already noticed differing vibes between the two tours. "I'm just coming out [on the Champions Tour] and enjoying being out here, enjoying being with the guys," said Durant, a four-time PGA Tour winner, his last coming in 2006. "I'm just looking at this as a reward for having a good tour career, and I just want to have fun when I come out here and play."
Durant already has three top-10 finishes on the Champions Tour while his best PGA Tour showing in 11 starts this season is a T-31 at last week's Travelers Championship.
After his opening round at Fox Chapel, he reflected on how his desire to keep a PGA Tour card into the future might be having the reverse effect on his game.
"Out there, I'm still trying to keep my job," Durant said. "I think I'm putting way too much pressure on myself out there. It's getting to be overkill. I'm trying so hard to make magic happen in one week, and it's just not working out very well."
The pressure has manifested itself on the greens, where Durant ranks 188th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting despite being 24th in greens in regulation. Jeff Brehaut, a friend of Durant from their Web.com Tour days in the mid-1990s, said Durant's ball-striking has always stacked up against the best on tour -- but the putter is a different story.
"He goes as his putter goes," Brehaut said. "He knows he can hit it with the best. When you give yourself so many birdie opportunities, if you don't make some, you get frustrated and it spills over to the rest of your game."
Durant needed only 28 putts in round one at the Senior Players (ranking T-4). If he can handle Fox Chapel's sloping, multi-tiered greens over the weekend, maybe he can channel the positive energy when he returns to the main tour.