2014 U.S. Senior Open: Consistency defines longtime pro golfer Gil Morgan

Gil Morgan, the man who possesses one of the purest swings in golf, is nearing the end of a remarkable career. His legacy is he’s one of a handful of professional golfers to play at an extremely high level for 40 years.
by Michael Baldwin Published: July 5, 2014
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photo - Gil Morgan, of the United States, follows his playing partner's drive off the 17th tee during the first round of the Turtle Bay Championship golf tournament held at Turtle Bay Resort, Friday, Jan. 25, 2008, in Kahuku, HI.  Morgan finished his first round with 7-under 65.  (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) ORG XMIT: HIMG106
Gil Morgan, of the United States, follows his playing partner's drive off the 17th tee during the first round of the Turtle Bay Championship golf tournament held at Turtle Bay Resort, Friday, Jan. 25, 2008, in Kahuku, HI. Morgan finished his first round with 7-under 65. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) ORG XMIT: HIMG106

Oak Tree National director of golf Steve Kimmel once asked Gil Morgan if there was a player’s swing Morgan envied, someone like Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller or Fred Couples. Morgan pondered the question before deciding his ball-striking was never an issue.

Morgan, the man who possessess one of the purest swings in golf, is nearing the end of a remarkable career.

His legacy is he’s one of a handful of professional golfers to play at an extremely high level for 40 years.

Playing on his home course, the 67-year-old optometrist from Wewoka will be one of the crowd favorites this week at the U.S. Senior Open, which begins Thursday at Oak Tree National.

“Coming from a small town with a nine-hole golf course, I never played much in high school. I just piddled around with it a little,” Morgan said. “I really didn’t start playing until college, so it has been quite a ride considering how late I started playing.”

Before he turned 60, the goler others call “Doc” played in 768 events on the two major circuits. The East Central University product finished first, second or third an astonishing 122 times. That means that before Morgan became an official AARP member, Morgan finished first, second or third one out of every six tournaments over a 30-year span.

“My first 11 years on the PGA Tour only once did I finish out of the top 10 on the (annual) earnings list,” Morgan said. “Being consistent was something I’ve always taken pride in.”

Morgan has collected 40 career pro wins, including seven on the PGA Tour. He owns the third-most titles (25) in Champions Tour history.

“Gil has sort of gone under the radar,” said longtime veteran Corey Pavin. “If you look really closely he’s had some really nice accomplishments. It’s not easy winning, even on the Champions Tour. Plus, he’s an incredibly nice man who is very humble which is maybe why he sometimes gets overlooked.”

Bob Tway, another local favorite who plays out of Oak Tree, said Morgan’s career rarely receives the attention it deserves.

“He’s always had a really great swing, a great ball-striker,” Tway said. “He makes it look like he’s hardly had to work at it to have that smooth a swing for 40 years. If he would have been a great putter he’d have won many, many more tournaments.”

Over his career, Morgan has made a remarkable 782 cuts, a sizzling 85 percent clip since he turned pro in the mid-1970s.

Because his most dominant days were on the Champions Tour, it’s sometimes forgotten Morgan also finished first, second or third in 49 PGA Tour events in an era when a wave of talented, young star players made it more difficult to make Sunday leaderboards.

“My fundamentals have been good for a long time,” Morgan said. “I’ve always had great hand-eye coordination, which always has been a huge factor for me.”

Morgan’s picturesque swing was best described by Tom Purtzer in a national article 30 years ago.

“We were playing a practice round,” Purtzer was quoted in 1988. “Gil, as usual, was striking it perfectly. I asked him the last time he didn’t hit a solid shot … We walked about 50 yards from the tee box Gil turned and said, ‘Memphis. Three years ago.’ … And he was dead serious.”

Wewoka roots

Unlike modern-day golfers, who often play competitively on the junior circuit before they’re teenagers, Morgan didn’t start playing golf until age 15.

Like most kids in the 1970s, Morgan played all sports. He was Wewoka’s starting quarterback and averaged 14 points per game on the basketball team.

“I really liked basketball. I had a really good touch and feel,” Morgan said. “I was All-Conference but I was only five-foot-seven. I wasn’t sure I was good enough to play basketball at the college level. That’s when I started focusing on golf.”

As Morgan’s golf game steadily improved his father, Gilmer, challenged his son to test his game.

“It started when my dad said, ‘You’re good enough to win around here, but can you win on the state level?’” Morgan said. “After I started playing well on a state level he challenged (me) to try and play well on the national level.

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by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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