At 57 years old, Titleist Staff Professional Kirk Hanefeld thought he might be the oldest contestant participating in this week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill, that is, until he looked at the field list and saw fellow Titleist golf ball loyalist and 8-time major champion Tom Watson's name. Watson is seven years Hanefeld's elder, but still going strong on the Champions Tour and at major championships.
After nagging injuries for the better part of two years, Hanefeld jokingly said he only feels the oldest, pointing out his set composition that includes his new CB prototype iron set that starts at the 6 and goes through 9, with four Vokey Design wedges (48º, 52º, 56º, 60º). He also carries a 913D2 driver, a 15-degree fairway metal and three hybrids. He plays the Pro V1x golf ball.
"I am really looking forward to this week to get the competitive juices flowing again, because I really haven't had an opportunity to play a lot over the last couple of years," said Hanefeld, who has suffered through a combination of neck and back injuries to the point that "I didn't have any feeling in my shoulder last December."
He rebounded in June when he qualified for the PGA Championship by finishing in a ninth place tie at the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship. "That was probably the first time I felt comfortable in a long time and I played fairly well."
This year mark's the second PGA Championship start of Hanefeld's career - 23 years after his debut at Shoal Creek in 1990. That's not say he has been idle for more than two decades. In fact, he has won multiple Senior PGA Professional National titles, finished tied for 19th to claim Low PGA Club Professional honors at the 2006 Senior PGA Championship, and was the 2008 Senior PGA Professional of the Year. He has participated in 55 events on the Champions Tour since becoming eligible in 2006 when he finished runner-up at the National Qualifying Tournament.
Hanefeld has some familiarity with Oak Hill, having participated in the Senior PGA Championship when it was contested here in 2008. He does not expect it to play quite as difficult as it did five years ago, however, when fellow Titleist Brand Ambassador Jay Haas won the event with a 7-over par 287 total. There were just 12 individual rounds under par for the week and the winning score was the highest in Senior PGA Tour history, and the second highest winning score in Champions Tour history. Hanefeld stood tied for 4th place after a first round 71 and was still in contention on the weekend before a Sunday 76 dropped him to a tie for 34th place.
"The conditions were extremely difficult, but it was a great experience," said Hanefeld. "Especially to be in contention with players like Jay Haas and Bernhard Langer (who finished second). I remember meeting Billy (Haas) that week, when he was here following his father."
When Hanefeld puts the tee in the ground for his first drive at approximately 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, he will be ready to give it a go against the world’s best golfers and plans to bring his veteran wisdom to his approach.
"I don't plan to try and keep up with these young guys off the tee, I know they are all long hitters and great ball strikers," said Hanefeld. "I am going to just go out and play my game, play smart, and try and hit fairways and greens. I can't wait to get started."