US President George W. Bush once called former Prime Minister John Howard “a man of steel”, but Australian golf’s man of steel has to be Peter Senior.
Senior showed his mettle when he rallied to win his third Australian PGA Championship at age 51 – the oldest winner of the event. And he captured the Handa Australian Senior Open at Royal Perth.
In a professional career spanning more than three decades, Senior has won some 30 tournaments around the globe.
In 1989 alone, he won four times (NSW PGA, Australian PGA, Australian Open and the Johnnie Walker Classic), but, according to Senior, that year pales into insignificance compared to 2010.
In this forthright interview, Senior, who plays full-time on the US Champions Tour, reveals an appealing sense of humour as he talks about himself, his goals and his zest for life.
Congratulations on winning your third Australian PGA Championship.
It was a great way to cap the year off. The years are going now and I don’t get that many opportunities so you have to take them.
Did you give yourself a realistic chance of winning at Coolum?
We have got so many good players now and to win, irrespective of where you play, you have to play extremely well. But I probably played my best golf at the Australian Open in Sydney. From tee to green I played pretty good, but I didn’t hole anything all week and still finished reasonably well. I finished bogey, par, bogey to finish 20th so I could have done really, really well. I probably didn’t play as well at Coolum, but I putted better. That was the only difference.
What does winning a major Australian title at age 51 mean to you?
It’s not something I am going to yell and scream about. I don’t want to say I’m the oldest winner in Australia. I am just so happy I won the event.
It certainly put a few younger players with big egos in their place?
The good thing about it is it’s proved to quite a few guys that we are not done when we turn 50 years of age. I had a good talk to Peter Fowler afterwards and it looks like he is going to come over to America and have a shot at it as well. It’s just given guys a little bit of hope.
How did you celebrate the win?
Well, I don’t drink alcohol and neither does June. We had a family dinner and got a few friends over and we had a great time.
Once again John Daly was the big drawcard at the Australian Open and the Australian PGA. Is he still good for golf?
For me, he’s a great guy. If you really get to know him he is a sensational guy. It’s just a pity he does what he does. The only disappointing thing for me is the way that he just gives up. I don’t like that about any sportsperson if they just give up. He’s got so much talent and he is a drawcard and we love seeing him down here.
Last year was an outstanding one for you. How much satisfaction did you get from playing well on the US Champions Tour, winning the Australian Senior Open and the PGA?
This is my first full year of golf in nine years and it’s done me the world of good. Nearly every year I play the Australian Tour and a couple of smaller events. So, tournament-wise, I normally play about eight tournaments a year and that means I have spent a lot of time at home with my kids. Playing full time has hardened me up again.
Have you enjoyed it?
I had a ball in America. The best thing I did was taking June and my kids (Krystlle, Jasmine and Mitchell). My eldest had 10 months off work and I took the two younger kids out of school. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for me and good for the family so we just went over for a 10 month holiday. It was great and it was the best family bonding session we could have had.
Where did you base yourself in the US?
We are in Orlando, Florida not far from Disneyland. The kids enjoyed that and we had a great time over there.
Did your results on the Champions Tour exceed your expectations?
My one and only goal I set myself was to finish in the top-30 on the money list so that I could go back and play again this year. The first year is very important. If I had not finished in the top-30 it would have meant going back to qualify and it would have been hard. (Note: Senior finished 20th with earnings of $US821,000).
Would this rate as one of his best years on Tour considering where you’re now at with your career?
It’s been the most enjoyable year I’ve had. I can look back and even the tournaments I won in the late ’80s, and there were quite a few in a row, but this year topped any year I have ever had in my career. And that’s because I had my family there. I did well and I finished well. It was just a year that I can look back on and say, ‘gee, I had a good time’.
You have been a touring pro for 32 years, what keeps you going?
I enjoy life and I still feel I can contest in every tournament I play regardless of who’s in the field. The fire is still there and I want to be competitive. The moment I lose my competitiveness I won’t play the game. I’ll just play with my mates.
How old do you feel?
I feel no older than I look – 60. (Laughter).
How do you keep fit?
I hardly ever work out when I’m on tour because I just feel strange if I start doing it. When I come home I’ll have six weeks in the gym trying to lose a little weight and trying to get fitter for the beginning of the Champions Tour.
How does your game compare to 21 years ago when you were a prolific winner?
I am probably a more consistent ball-striker from tee to green now than I ever was. When I was younger I had my weeks and I did play some good tournaments but week in, week out I probably hit it better now that I did then.
You must be satisfied with your mental game at the moment?
That was one thing at the PGA at Coolum that I was happy about – the way I stood up and felt over the ball when I needed to do something. I could still key in and could still focus and do what I needed to do. That means more to a sportsperson than anything.
Your coach Gary Edwin says no-one loves the game more than you. Is that a fair comment?
I think about golf all the time – even at night. Sometimes I’ll be lying in bed with my wife and we’ll be watching TV and all of a sudden I’ll disappear for 10 minutes and I’ve got a club in my hand and I’m in front of the mirror in the bathroom thinking, ‘I need to get it there and then I need to get it there’ – so it’s just great.
Has there ever been a time in your career that you fell out of love with golf?
There’s only been one time and that was in 1997 when I actually contemplated giving the game away. I had just won the Canon Challenge at Terrey Hills. I played with Peter Lonard on the last day and I just lost the enjoyment for it (golf). Nearly every round I went out and it was just a fight. I didn’t know where the ball was going and somehow I was putting a score together but there was no enjoyment in it. Gary Edwin came up to me after that tournament and said ‘well done, Pete’. I said ‘Gaz, I don’t feel very good about it’. We sat down for half an hour and he could understand what I was trying to say. Even though I won the tournament it was a fight. Funny enough Gary was at Hope Island as the pro and he took me down the back and said ‘this is how you used to swing it and he said this is what we are going to do and if you want to change it and want to do something about it and fix it, we’ll fix it’. I said it would be worth anything if you can just bring the enjoyment back again. I tell you what, in six or eight months I was enjoying the game again and I have been with him since 1997. Gary is a great guy and I would stand up for him anywhere against anybody.
You have got a break before returning to the US, what area of your game will you be working on with Gary?
We are going to do a lot of work on my short game before I go back because that’s the only area I have to improve. It’s just my chipping and my putting. If I can improve one shot a round it’s going to be good by the end of each week.
What goals have you set for 2011?
I definitely want to do a little better than I did in 2010. One of my goals is to win on the Champions Tour, but I’m definitely going to get fitter. The guys who played well last year are the guys who are the fittest as well. So I am going to drop a few kilos and work hard on everything this year to give myself the best possible chance.