Jeff Sluman might not realize it, but he is forever connected to Edmond’s Oak Tree National golf club.
His career’s greatest triumph was at Oak Tree when he came out of nowhere to win the 1988 PGA Championship. Sluman shot an incredible Sunday 65 on what then was considered the country’s hardest golf course.
Twenty-six years later, Sluman is one of several past champions returning to Oak Tree for the U.S. Senior Open beginning July 7.
Sluman is seemingly a lifetime removed from the young golfer who took the course by storm, and the course itself has changed quite a bit.
But when Sluman steps on the course or chips on Hole 5 like he did when he holed out for eagle on a Sunday in ’88, there’s no doubt he’ll feel the echoes of the past.
“I don’t really think about (the connection),” Sluman said. “I think one of the reasons is, this is the first time I’ve gone back.
“As far as memories, there’s going to be a few holes where I hit some pretty close shots and holed out on the par five that will certainly rekindle some memories in my brain.”
In eight years on tour, the 5-foot-7, 130-pound Sluman never had won a tournament. Yet he set out on a week remembered for blistering heat and wind that blew players’ hats off their heads, and he shocked everyone.
“I remember a lot of the guys, especially from Europe, were complaining about the heat,” Sluman said. “It was something they weren’t used to. But I had played the week before in Memphis — now that was hot.
“I looked around at all these guys, and they were gasping and stuff like that. I said, ‘Shoot, it doesn’t seem that hot to me.’”
Sluman, then 30, also wasn’t intimidated by Oak Tree’s tricky landscape. He had played on the course a month before with Oklahoma residents Bob Tway and Willie Wood.
Sluman came out hitting fairways, nailing greens and played solid golf all week. He led for a time on Saturday, but entered Sunday three strokes behind Paul Azinger.
Then he played the best round of his life.
Fueled by his eagle on 5, he went on to shoot a 6-under-par-65, bringing his tournament total to 12-under.
He beat Azinger by three strokes. He won his first tournament, and it was the PGA Championship — the only major he would ever win.
“The fact that it was a major didn’t make it double, it was more like 10 times in your feelings,” he said. “It goes without saying that with any tournament from any player that’s won anything, you look back and you can’t take it away from me.