In three brief years the UBS Cup has become a celebration set in an international team competition. It is a festival of personalities and golf skills that have withstood lifes maddening balance. Mind and body, that fragile mix vital to any champion, are at odds in the natural process of aging. As a golfer matures the mental aspects of his game improve while his physical skills diminish. Understanding different shots and situations, learning to control emotions and pressure help mold a champion, yet these experiences are accumulated while strength, flexibility and reflexes ebb.
An exception to this rule is Jack Nicklaus whose preternatural strength of mind led to his 1962 U.S. Open victory as a 22 year old. His first PGA Tour win was a major championship, as was his last, the 1986 Masters, where Nicklaus willed his body to recapture its youth for nine holes closing in 30 for a one stroke victory.
Since that magical week at Augusta professional golfers have increasingly used advancements in nutrition and exercise to help stave off the aging cycle, keeping themselves in much better shape throughout their careers. Those wise minds are finding much more receptive physiques, and the result is better golf being played throughout golfers 40s, 50s and even approaching their 60s. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the Champions Tour, where the celebration evident at the UBS Cup is on display weekly in a stroke play format. The golfers on each team have made their mark on the tour, or are waiting for their chance to do so.
On the U.S. team, captain Arnold Palmer is still the charismatic soul of the tour, and he constantly sees remarkable competition among his Champions Tour peers. Hale Irwin secured his second Charles Schwab Cup this year earning the most points in a season long competition. The 59-year-old proved that aside from a few aches and pains, he hasnt slowed a step in a decade on the Champions Tour. The runner-up in that competition was Craig Stadler. Stadler is still eligible to play on the PGA Tour next year by virtue of his win at the 2003 B.C. Open. The only other man to win on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour in the same season was Raymond Floyd in 1992. He and Jay Haas are the only players to compete in the Ryder Cup past their 50th birthdays.
The youngsters on the U.S. team have shown remarkable competitive longevity while awaiting their opportunity on the Champions Tour. Gallery favorite Fred Couples won at the 2003 Shell Houston Open then had a stretch of three top ten finishes in four events this season. Scott Hoch also won in 2003, capturing the Ford Championship at Doral. Curtis Strange and Hal Sutton have devoted extensive portions of their careers recently to captaining the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2002 and 2004 respectively, but each man has shown excellent form as well.
The Rest of the World team has also seen spirited play of late as well as considerable Champions Tour success. Captain Gary Players victory at the 2000 Senior Skins game, marked his 6th consecutive decade with a win. On his team he finds perhaps the hottest golfer on the Champions Tour, Mark McNulty. The elegant Zimbabwean closed out his rookie year with three wins including the final two events of the year. Sam Torrance, the lovable Scottish rascal, thrilled American galleries in 2004 but found the time away from his wife and children unbearable and headed back to Great Britain after some impressive Champions Tour appearances. Carl Masons limited Champions Tour exposure included a playoff loss to Tom Watson at the 2003 Senior British Open. Mason has been the leading money winner in each of his two years on the European counterpart to the Champions Tour.
Captain Player also has stellar international team match players at his disposal who have not yet reached their 50th birthday. Starting with Colin Montgomerie, certainly one of the greatest Ryder Cup players in history he was the backbone of victorious teams in 2002 and 2004. Bernhard Langer was not only a great Ryder Cup player but captained the team to its widest margin of victory ever and won two Masters as well. Another Masters champion with an impeccable Ryder Cup record who must be relishing another chance at the American team is Welshman Ian Woosnam, destined to follow Torrance and Langer as a Ryder Cup captain one day.
Present and future Champions Tour players meet at Kiawah Island, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup to once again compete for national pride with personalities that are familiar to all golf fans. Though a few years removed from their glory days on the PGA and European Tours, attention to nutrition and exercise ensures that they arent very far removed from their competitive primes at all.