Ken Tanigawa only a short time ago seemed happily resigned to showcasing his golf game only in Arizona state amateur events, yet for the second time in eight months he improbably turned up hoisting a trophy on another of golf’s greatest stages.
On the treacherous East Course at the venerated Oak Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., Tanigawa nervously holed a 10-foot par-saving putt on the 18th hole to win the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship by one stroke over his old UCLA teammate Scott McCarron.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” Tanigawa said. “To hold this trophy and win it at this venue is a dream come true. It’s unbelievable. It really is.”
Essentially a career amateur until he entered PGA Tour Champions qualifying on a whim, Tanigawa now has two victories, his first coming when he holed a 35-foot eagle putt on the renowned 18th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links to win the PURE Insurance Championship.
His is such an unlikely story that it cannot even be said he has exceeded his own expectations in the 17 months he has played on the senior tour.
“I didn’t really have any,” he said. “I just didn’t know. It was a new endeavor to play against all these guys. I just tried to work hard and try to improve and just try to find my way. It’s been a joy.”
To recap, he once played professional golf briefly. In 2003, he made the cut in only four of 22 starts and earned less than $8,000. That was it. He eventually regained his amateur status and was an accomplished amateur player in his home state of Arizona. He entered senior qualifying only because it was going to be played near his home in Arizona. He was the medalist to earn a full exemption and chose to pursue professional golf for a second time.
Tanigawa, 51, began the final round at Oak Hill trailing defending champion Paul Broadhurst by three. Broadhurst stumbled on the back nine and shot a 75, while Tanigawa came up clutch on the inward nine and finished with an even-par 70 for a 72-hole score of three-under par 277.
Outwardly, he seemed calm. It was a facade, he said. “Inside I was a bit of a wreck. I was really quite nervous. It was just hard, a hard round on a hard golf course.”
He birdied the 15th and 16th holes, while Broadhurst was making a double-bogey and took a two-stroke lead. A 17th-hole bogey left him one ahead of Broadhurst and McCarron, and at 18, he hit his drive into a fairway bunker, close enough to the lip that he was forced to lay up.
His third shot to the par-4 was expertly done, however, the ball catching a slope behind the hole and rolling back to 10 feet. After McCarron missed his birdie putt to tie, Tanigawa stood over his 10-footer for the clubhouse lead, thinking about, well, what?
“Quite a bit, actually,” he said. “I kind of assumed Scott was going to make his putt and I kind of regrouped and it kind of worked out.”
A few minutes later, Broadhurst missed a 50-foot birdie putt to tie and Tanigawa was the winner of the oldest major in senior history, one that began at Augusta National Golf Club in 1937.
"I'm so pleased for him," Broadhurst said. "He's a cracking guy, a lovely guy to play with. He's a great guy off the course. I'm really pleased for him. He's done really well since he came out here on tour. And for him to win a major, I'm sure he'll have a really good evening."