If people actually recognized Gene Sauers at any Champions Tour venue, they certainly would see him strutting around more confidently these days.
The 54-year-old Georgia native is coming off his biggest professional golf achievement — a one-stroke victory at the U.S. Senior Open last week at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.
Not only was it his first major triumph, it was his first win on the 50-and-over circuit.
“I was kind of beginning to doubt myself if I could win again,” said Sauers, in his fourth season on the Champions Tour. “I won on the PGA Tour, and I won on the Nike (now Web.com) Tour.
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“I got me a good one.”
Considering where Sauers was a decade ago, any tournament victory seems like a bonus.
A PGA Tour regular until 2005, Sauers left golf to battle a rare, life-threatening skin condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
SJS usually comes from an immune-system failure, causing lesions to form on the skin and around mucous membranes. People who contract it often say they feel like their skin is burning from the inside out.
Because of how worn out he felt physically, Sauers initially thought he was dealing with rheumatoid arthritis in 2006.
Five years later, his condition worsened. Finally, after he was diagnosed with SJS, he spent seven weeks in the hospital treating it.
“I (had) a 25 percent survival rate,” Sauers said. “When I got out of that hospital, I wasn’t even thinking about playing golf.”
Seven years after giving it up, he returned to the sport.
“I had to relearn everything,” Sauers said.
As a former PGA Tour winner, Sauers got into his first Champions Tour event at the 2012 Boeing Classic.
“Everybody … came up and congratulated me,” Sauers said. “The driving-range guys brought me birthday cards. It was very, very special.”
And he returns, fresh off his U.S. Senior Open victory, with a good track record at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge — three consecutive top-10 finishes at the Boeing Classic.
However, Sauers is battling a wrist ailment. He said he strained some tendons hitting out of the deep rough at Scioto — to the extent that his hand went numb. He said it is in a lot of pain.
“I’ll take a bunch of Advil, and will be all right,” Sauers said.
THUMBS UP FOR THURMOND
Billy Mayfair is an old Arizona State University golfer, and gave a hearty approval to the hiring of Matt Thurmond away from the University of Washington.
Thurmond was the men’s golf coach at UW for the past 15 years. But when Tim Mickelson stepped down last month to become a sports agent, the Sun Devils hired Thurmond to replace him.
“We’ve texted back and forth. Everyone I’ve talked to up here and other players have all said great things about him,” Mayfair said.
Seattle’s Fred Couples (back) withdrew from the Boeing Classic on Monday. It is the first time since he joined the Champions Tour that Couples has skipped his hometown event. The last time Couples teed it up in the 50-and-over tour was February at the Chubb Classic in Florida. … Former U.S. Open winner Scott Simpson was disqualified from the Boeing Classic on Wednesday after missing his pro-am time. Simpson holds the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge course record of 11-under 61, set in 2006.