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updated: 6/19/2014 11:08 PM

Even at 69, Hale Irwin doesn't like to lose

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  • Two time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin gets a round of high-fives from the fans surrounding the 18th green after sinking a 60-foot putt during the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., Sunday, June 17, 1990. The play put Irwin in the clubhouse at 8-under for the tournament. Irwin won the championship in playoffs with a score of 280. (AP photo/Charles Bennett)

      Two time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin gets a round of high-fives from the fans surrounding the 18th green after sinking a 60-foot putt during the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., Sunday, June 17, 1990. The play put Irwin in the clubhouse at 8-under for the tournament. Irwin won the championship in playoffs with a score of 280. (AP photo/Charles Bennett)

  • Hale Irwin jumps for joy after sinking a birdie putt on the 19th playoff hole Monday, June 18, 1990 with Mike Donald during the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Il. (AP Photo/Bill Waugh)

      Hale Irwin jumps for joy after sinking a birdie putt on the 19th playoff hole Monday, June 18, 1990 with Mike Donald during the U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Il. (AP Photo/Bill Waugh)

  • Hale Irwin cleans his iron on the driving range during the pro-am for the Encompass Championship golf tournament in Glenview, Ill., Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

      Hale Irwin cleans his iron on the driving range during the pro-am for the Encompass Championship golf tournament in Glenview, Ill., Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Hale Irwin checks his driver on the driving range during the pro-am for the Encompass Championship golf tournament in Glenview, Ill., Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

      Hale Irwin checks his driver on the driving range during the pro-am for the Encompass Championship golf tournament in Glenview, Ill., Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Hale Irwin looks to the ninth green from the fairway during Thursday's pro-am for this weekend's Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

      Hale Irwin looks to the ninth green from the fairway during Thursday's pro-am for this weekend's Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.
    Associated Press

 
 

It was one of those magical moments in golf.

The 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah.

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Sunday.

72nd hole.

There was 45-year-old Hale Irwin sinking a 59-foot uphill birdie putt to tie Mike Donald and force a playoff.

There was the former two-time All-Big Eight defensive back (University of Colorado) in full sprint mode after draining the putt, circling the green and high-fiving as many of the frenzied fans on hand as he could.

He would go on to win and become the oldest U.S. Open champ in history.

"It was one of those moments," Irwin said with a smile at the memory.

But those kind of spontaneous moments, like the one etched in stone at Medinah, are long behind Irwin, who just days ago celebrated his 69th birthday and beginning Friday will be part of a stellar field competing for the top prize at the Encompass Championship at North Shore Country Club in Glenview.

Nah, these days, things are a little different for the man who won 20 times on the PGA Tour, including two other U.S. Open titles.

"I don't jump off a 4-foot wall to the ground like I used to," he said with a laugh. "If I leap over a fence, I think about what's on the other side first. When I look at a pool of water I wonder, 'Can I get from here to the other side safely?' "

With age comes wisdom.

But for Irwin, regardless of age, that competitive spirit never goes away.

He proved that when he joined the Champions/Senior Tour nearly 20 years ago, tearing things up -- even well into his 60s -- to become the most dominant player in Tour history.

"My talents have helped me, my will to succeed, my competitiveness … I've never given up," Irwin said. "I'm at that age now though where I recognize that my skill levels are not what they once were.

"And at what stage will I accept that? That's the battle I'm having. I enjoy the competition, but I don't enjoy playing poorly -- and I've been playing poorly."

Asked what part of the game he has been struggling with most, Irwin doesn't go to any of the old standbys like his putting or his iron game.

Nope.

"It's concentration. I'll have an idea I want to take to another guy and I'll be thinking about that rather than thinking about this," he said, pointing to his clubs. "I didn't use to have that.

"In many rounds I'll have 12, 13 really good holes and then I'll have a handful where I'll just go 'Really? Where did that come from?' "

But even though the man who serves on the advisory board for Champions Tour players and is a staunch supporter of junior golf hasn't won on tour in a few years, the hale and hearty native of Missouri still is wowing the competition.

"He's had an incredible run," said fellow tour member Jeff Sluman of Hinsdale. "You look at him right now and every week he's shooting his age.

"Unbelievable competitor. I wasn't out here when he was winning all those Champions Tour events, but all you have to do is look at his golf ball -- it's a TaylorMade 45. That means he has 45 victories … pretty cool."

But, Sluman quickly added, knowing Irwin like he does, "I know he'd like them have to change it to a TaylorMade 46."

If he doesn't get that 46, it won't be from a lack of effort.

"For me, I love the competitive spirit," Irwin said. "I love being around the Kenny Perrys. I love being around these guys; it propels me to be a better player.

"But, as I say that, it's kind of hard to think it's going to go on forever and ever. And maybe I don't want it to go on forever. Maybe it's time to spend time with the grandkids."

When that day eventually arrives, maybe Irwin can tell them about that hot Sunday afternoon at Medinah, a day that tops his list of all-time favorites.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "It was a very special time. With the finish, the way it happened … the spontaneity."

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