OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Alex Cejka has had no trouble adjusting to professional golf's 50-and-over division.
The PGA Tour Champions newcomer already has wins in two senior majors and will go for a third this week in the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club.
“He’s got one of the best golf swings out here, and when he gets the putter going, you’d better watch out. He's already proved that,” said Bernhard Langer, who has won a record 11 senior majors. “He’s made an immediate impact. Just about every time he teed up, he had a chance to win, and he’s already won twice.”
Cejka tied for second in the Chubb Classic in Naples, Florida, in his second start on the senior tour and followed that with back-to-back wins in majors in May. He won a playoff against Steve Stricker in the Regions Tradition at Greystone in Hoover, Alabama, and three weeks later won the Senior PGA Championship by four shots at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“My driving was phenomenal,” Cejka said. “I hit a lot of drives, and I hit them long and straight, and that was the key why I did so well.”
Cejka has struggled with his driving accuracy in his last three tournaments and will need to get it back if he's going to contend at Omaha Country Club.
OCC is set on what once was rolling farmland on the north edge of the city and was the site of the 2013 Senior Open. The Perry Maxwell course challenges players with uneven and sidehill lies and undulating greens. The course was lengthened from 6,657 yards to 6,891 during a 2018 renovation.
“It’s narrow,” Cejka said. “The rough is brutal, so you’ve got to really drive it well."
Rocco Mediate, who finished third here in 2013, said the rough is “evil” and the layout is “brutally hard to walk,” especially in the heat. Temperatures were in the upper 90s here eight years ago. The forecast is more favorable this time, with highs forecast for the mid-80s Thursday, mid-90s Friday, and the upper 70s on the weekend.
The field includes 16 players who won a total of 26 majors before joining the senior tour. Among them playing in the Senior Open for the first time are Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Jose Maria Olazabal, Rich Beem and Mike Weir.
Stricker, the 2019 champion, is not playing in Omaha. He's on the regular PGA Tour this week at the John Deere Classic, an event he’s won three times. There was no U.S. Senior Open last year because of the pandemic.
Kenny Perry won by five strokes over Fred Funk at OCC in 2013, shooting 64 and 63 on the weekend to finish 13 under. The 60-year-old Perry, who also won the Senior Open in 2017, has only two top-10 finishes in 22 events this year.
Cejka is looking to become the first player to win three senior majors in the same season since Langer in 2017. He was born in the Czech Republic but fled the country with his father at age 9 and settled in Munich, Germany.
Cejka grew up idolizing Langer, turned pro in 1989, and has won on six different tours, with his only PGA Tour victory coming in the 2015 Puerto Rico Open. He and his wife, Alyssa, live in Las Vegas and travel to many tournaments in a recreational vehicle.
“I love it. Luckily, my wife likes it, too, and that’s a big factor if you have your spouse kind of liking the same lifestyle,” Cejka said. “We don’t do it every week, but it’s great, especially here, being literally right in the parking lot, 50 yards from the driving range and the pitching green. I should have no excuses after the end of the week.”
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