Verplank makes surprising charge
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Scott Verplank has aches and pains older than some of the guys he's chasing at the PGA Championship.
"I don't feel a day older than a hundred," the 47-year-old tour journeyman said to laughter Saturday, moments after a 69 left him at 5-under-par and two shots off the lead heading into the final round. "It's fantastic."
Fantasy might be more like it. Verplank wears an insulin pump to deal with diabetes and he's battled chronic elbow, wrist and foot injuries for nearly all of his pro career, so long, in fact, that he was named the comeback player of the year — in 1998.
"I didn't even know if I was going to be in the PGA until, like a week ago, two weeks ago," he said.
Verplank gained a spot because he's still in the top 100 world rankings, not a small accomplishment in itself. A win here would make him the second-oldest major champion ever, behind 48-year-old Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Country Club. To accomplish that feat, he'll have to handle oppressive heat and a demanding Atlanta Athletic Club layout better than guys he's spotting a few years — Brendan Steele (28) and Jason Dufner (34), both at 7-under; and Keegan Bradley (25), who's at 6-under.
"But I was excited to get to play here," Verplank said, "and you know what, I hope that I can turn back the clock a little bit, and go back to when I was about 21, when I won everything I played in.
"Maybe that will happen," he added, smiling, "overnight."
Verplank isn't kidding about those salad days. He put an exclamation point on a wildly successful junior career by beating Jim Thorpe in a playoff at the 1985 Western Open, becoming the first amateur in 29 years to win a PGA Tour event. It was less of a surprise than it sounds. Verplank was an All-American all four years at Oklahoma State and won both the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Championship before he left.
But by 1992, Verplank was already cobbling together a medical chart that would rival his PGA Tour resume in length. He needed surgery to repair an elbow injury that year, then again in 1996. He played parts of several of his early seasons with medical exemptions and arrived at here at the start of the week with five career wins and a wrist that's been sore for nearly a year.