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U.S. Senior Open: Verplank Hoping Tournament Signals New Beginning

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EDMOND, Oklahoma -

Very few people look at turning 50 as a new beginning.

The downsides of getting older normally outweigh the positives, as each passing year brings about new problems to deal with and struggles to overcome.

Scott Verplank is one of those who looks at 50 as the start of something new.

Verplank turns the big 5-0 the day before the U.S. Senior Open gets underway at his home course of Oak Tree National. The tournament begins on Thursday, but Verplank isn't quite ready to accept the reason he'll be able to participate in the tournament next week.

"I'm not sure about this Senior Tour stuff just yet," Verplank told News9.com. "I haven't turned 50 so it will take some getting used to.

"It's hard to take, the fact I've got to play in this deal where I'm playing against older guys. I still feel like I can play with the younger guys. As this gets closer, I've come to the realization that I should try to play with these guys for a bit and see what happens."

The past several years have been long and hard for Verplank. Hip and wrist injuries have prevented him from being effective on the course, and he's only made the cut in seven of the 34 events he's participated in on the PGA Tour in the last three seasons. Despite the setbacks, Verplank knows he still has plenty in the tank to compete.

"I haven't been able to get back to a level that I'd been at the previous 25 years," Verplank said. "I have been working hard. I think once I start this tournament, I'm hoping things will kind of wake up. I know I haven't forgotten how to play well."

Oak Tree National has served as the host of several major championships over the years. It hosted the 1984 U.S. Amateur Championship, an event Verplank won. It also hosted the 1988 PGA Championship and 2006 Senior PGA Championship.

The Pete Dye golf course has gained a reputation over the years of being a very difficult place to play. With the unknown conditions of an Oklahoma summer, combined with the usual difficulties of playing a U.S. Open course, Oak Tree National could be historically hard next week.

"When it was built, it was kind of out in the middle of nowhere, really far north Edmond," Verplank said. "It's got a great history of being a championship golf course; that's what it was built for. In that regard, it's doing what it is supposed to do."

Since he lives on the course, Verplank has a bit more knowledge of the course than the average golfer in this week's field. Despite that knowledge, Verplank said his phone hasn't been ringing off the hook with other golfers on the other end of the line looking for tips on how to play the tough course.

"I've had a couple guys, guys that are closer to my age and just turned 50 within a year or two of me," Verplank said. "They ask me questions, but when you go to a USGA event, you know you're going to have to play pretty well to compete. The golf course will be plenty tough."

Verplank is hoping the course shows well this week, not only for his fellow competitors, but also those around the country watching on TV. He's not the only one, either.

Verplank and fellow participants Bob Tway, Gil Morgan and Willie Wood are part of the group known as the Oak Tree Gang, a group of PGA golfers connected by college golf at Oklahoma State and the fact they all call Oak Tree National home.

"We're all proud of the place; we all live there," Verplank said. "If we didn't like it we wouldn't live there. It's pretty simple. We all want the golf course to show well and hold up and live up to Oak Tree's expectations are."

It's easy to assume Verplank and his Oak Tree cohorts would have a major advantage in this tournament since they live on the golf course. However, the difficulty of the course, combined with the pressure of tournament golf pretty much eliminates that perceived advantage. Verplank said there is one scenario where experience on the course will play a big factor for him.

"If any of us are playing well, it being your home course and you being very familiar with it, puts you in a situation to have a better chance to be comfortable," Verplank said. "That's what you want. I think when you're playing in a big tournament, you're just looking to be comfortable and make it feel like any other golf. I think if any of us are in contention and playing well, the familiarity of the golf course and the comforts of being at home have a chance to really help."

Verplank's young—compared to other competitors—and his experience at Oak Tree National make him one of the tournament's favorites. A win would mean a lot for Verplank—he would do it on his home course, surrounded by friends and family and residents of a state that adores him. But more than anything, a win would be a new beginning.

"It would just mean I played a nice tournament again," Verplank said. "I haven't really played well for a couple years. It's not like I've forgotten how.

"I'm hoping I can start playing well at this next level and get competitive again because you like to play and it gets your competitive juices going. I've always liked to compete and I'd like to compete again."

And people say getting older is a terrible thing.

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