Luke Donald, Jonathan Byrd, Bob Burns, Phil Tataurangi and Charles Howell III were about to turn the PGA Tour into a first-timers club last year. Late in the season, they broke through on five successive weeks to grab their initial trophies. Wise old heads were thinking, Hmmm are we seeing something here?
Then Vijay Singh won the Tour Championship. I dont guess that is too shocking because the tournament lets in only those who have finished in the top 30. Then this season began, and when Ernie Els won the Mercedes Championships, and that wasnt too much of a surprise because you arent invited unless you have won the preceding year.
But then the resurgence by the old boys continued, and that was a little surprising. Els won again, his 12th victory on the PGA Tour. Then Singh popped up in Phoenix for his 12th win. Mike Weir fell in step with his fourth win the last four years, this time in Phoenix.
And in a real tribute to the golfing graybeards, Davis Love III, almost 39 years old, nuked a 4-iron to 12 feet at the last hole to defeat Tom Lehman, who is 42 years old. Lehman had shadow-boxed Pebble carefully to put himself in a position to win, but he missed a five-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole and lost it. Love bombed a drive at the par-5 last, ripped an iron to 12 feet on his second shot, then calmly two-putted for the bird ' and the victory.
It makes one wonder when the 20-somethings are going to start doing it this year. But perhaps we knew it wasnt going to happen at Pebble Beach. After all, this is the place where Johnny Miller rose up in 1994 at the age of 46 and turned back the clock to the early 70s, turning back everyone in the field for a win. It is the place where Mark OMeara has won five times, where Love won in 2001 for his last victory prior to this season. Except for Matt Gogel winning a year ago, the AT&T has hardly ever been the scene of a golfers first victory.
Why? Pebble Beach, where the tournament is played the final day, isnt overly long. The greens are the smallest on tour, so getting a ball to stop on them is like trying to stop an eraser on a mans toupee. Grass is often times grainy this time of year and putts are dicey, meaning the man who can keep his patience while a roller or two suddenly veers off line is way ahead of the game. Youve got to be in it for the long haul, brother.
This tournament has always been about attitude,' Love said. '[If] you come here thinking it's going to be wet, it's going to be windy and cold, you've got to play with amateurs, it's going to take six hours - you've already lost. It definitely is a week for a good attitude, and that fits for me.
In other words, those who are easily put off their game by the myriad of distractions around Pebble Beach dont win very often here. The distractions are numerous. A plodder will usually do well here. The jackrabbits usually dont.
But even the old guys have their problems.
'That's probably as nervous as I've ever been playing a round of golf,' Love said, and he was including the Players Championship, which he won in 92, or the PGA Championship, which he won in 97. Love has played with the nerves throughout his professional career, which is entering his 18th season. But it is good nerves, and he ought to be used to the butterflies by now. Fifteen tour wins tell their own story, and likewise do 23 second-place finishes. Hes won a bunch, but hes lost a bunch, and each time he learns something.
Now its on to San Diego for the Buick Invitational, with the string up to four tournaments and counting. Tiger Woods comes out for his first time to swing the club this week, and Phil Mickelson will be playing at home. It doesnt seem like the ideal place for a youngster to win, either.
Five of the top-nine money winners this year are either in their 40s or upper 30s ' Singh, Love, Rocco Mediate, Lehman ' and Jay Haas, who is 49, fer cryin out loud. Not until you reach No. 10 do you find a 20-something ' Aaron Baddeley. This could be the Year of the Geezer ' if they dont run out of breath.