EDMOND — Scott Verplank wanted to helicopter his driver into the pond cutting across the ninth fairway.
But rather than whirrly birding it into water after another errant tee shot, he gave it away. Just handed it to a spectator in the gallery.
“I won’t have to mess with that one anymore,” Verplank said.
Won’t have to mess with this U.S. Senior Open either.
This week’s tournament was supposed to be the perfect setup for Verplank. After turning 50 the day before the tournament started, he was playing his first Champions Tour event, a major championship on his home course. Surely he would contend. Maybe he would win.
But sometimes, fairy tales don’t come true.
Verplank shot 4-over par in each of the first two rounds and failed to make the cut by one shot.
Thursday, he nearly broke down after his round.
Friday, he was emotional again, but this time, he sounded like a guy more ready to retire than keep playing. There were lots of long pauses in his press conference. Lots of “I don’t know.” Lots of head shaking.
“I just have no idea where I’m going to hit the golf ball,” he said.
Verplank hit shots in places that he’s never been before at Oak Tree National — and that’s saying something. This has been Verplank’s home course for 25 years. He’s played thousands of rounds here, and yet, he found himself in foreign lands Thursday and Friday.
“You know, I’m going to have to figure out a way to play (consistently) if I want to keep playing,” he said, “because whatever I’m doing isn’t working.”
What Verplank did on No. 5 and 6 Friday is a microcosm of his struggles. He birdied the par-4 fifth, and it was textbook. Drive down the right-center of the fairway. Approach to 6 or 8 feet. Knock home the putt.
Verplank, who went to 1-over for the day with that birdie and was in great shape to make the cut, had a little spring in his step as he walked to the tee at the sixth. Maybe he could get on a roll, string together some birdies and make a little run.
The very next swing, Verplank put his tee shot 80 yards right, nearly in the adjacent fairway.
The result: double bogey.
“I don’t really want to play like that,” he said. “Unless I can get it figured out where I can drive the ball reasonably straight like I used to, you know, golf is no fun.”
Verplank has battled injuries throughout his career, but he insists he isn’t dealing with any physical ailments. Still, he recognizes that he hasn’t been the same since having surgery on his left wrist three years ago.
His game just isn’t stabilizing.
“I’ve tried not playing. I’ve tried working hard,” he said. “I guess I’ll just have to figure that out. … I’m sure there’s an answer out there. I just don’t know what it is yet.”
Fellow Oak Tree resident and Oklahoma State alum Willie Wood said, “Scott is a tough, tough guy, and he’ll bounce back. He’s been through a lot of physical difficulties, but he’s always come through. And I know he’ll be playing the Champions Tour a long, long time.”
But if this week is any indication, Verplank is in for a long slog. He is struggling. He is searching. And that was made all the more obvious on a course that he knows so well.
Add in the home course, the first senior event, the major championship, and there was lots to bring Verplank down.
“I would be despondent if I was playing in the Portugal 3-ball right now playing like this,” he said.
So, what’s next?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Hadn’t thought about it. I guess we’ll have a pool party at the house or something.”
Not exactly the ending he was planning for this fairy tale.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.