Champions Tour Alive and Vibrant


The Champions Tour is a tour in flux, what with the older men gracefully bowing out, the newcomers coming on in a hurry, and some doggedly defying the odds by continuing their winning ways. And 2003 exemplified that in multiples.
Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Isao Aoki, Raymond Floyd the time has come to cut back on the Champions Tour schedule. Poised to take their place are Craig Stadler, Wayne Levi, D.A. Weibring and Morris Hatalsky. And ignoring their advancing age, still golfing to a standard reserved only for champions, are names like Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Jim Thorpe, Bruce Fleisher, Allen Doyle, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan.
It took 16 events this year before the Champions Tour had its first repeat winner. Names like Dana Quigley, Dave Barr, Vicente Fernandez and David Eger jumped out to wins early, followed by Tom Purtzer, Rodger Davis, Bob Gilder, Tom Jenkins, Jay Sigel, Jim Ahern and Doug Tewell. Not until Bruce Lietzke won the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, then the U.S. Senior Open, did a player win two events this year.
Obviously, from a competitive standpoint, it's been really an unbelievable year, said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Twenty-five different winners in 30 weeks - just a very balanced amount of competition. Each week we seem to have a different mix of players in the hunt. It's a tremendously competitive tour again, which is terrific.
Once Lietzke won the sixth and seventh victories of his young Champions Tour career ' and his first and second this year - the floodgates broke and multiple winners became a little more common. Watson won two majors the second half of the season ' the British Senior Open (a major for the first time) and the JELD-WEN Tradition. Stadler made a grand entrance to the tour, winning his third time out, winning on the regular tour, then coming back two more times. Included in his three Champions Tour victories was a major ' the Ford Senior Players Championship.
There wasnt any adjustment at all for The Walrus.
You're basically starting Thursday or Friday morning, doing the same thing you've been doing for 30 years, said Stadler. Just different players in the field, but, you know, same guys I played with for 20 and over 30 years.
The only thing you might want to call an adjustment is the fact that I've never seen any golf courses, and obviously the first year you don't. But, we do that every week, and one or two practice rounds, you pretty much know what you've got.
Jim Thorpe got into the multiples act, winning the Long Island Classic and the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
Thorpe studied a frequent playing partner, Tom Kite. Kite didnt win a tournament this year, yet played consistently enough to be No. 6 on the money list.
Tom has been a consistent player throughout his entire career, said Thorpe. At this particular point, his putting is a little suspect. But we have a good break - actually we have two breaks. One break that Tom Watson only plays 12 or 14 times, and another break is that Tom Kite is a little weak with the putter right now. We all go through it. I think these two players would absolutely dominate. Between Watson, Kite, and Irwin, you can probably add Morgan and Nelson in that crew.
I think these guys would dominate if things went their way. If Tom Kite was just a mediocre putter, if he putted 29, 30 putts per round, and Tom Watson isn't playing that much anymore, so we have another break there, he's going to play 14 events. He played 14 events and he leads the money list.
The Golf Channel has an increased role in the Champions Tour next year, becoming its exclusive cable home. Commissioner Finchem duly noted that during a speech at the Schwab Cup.
I must say that the Golf Channel people have done a terrific job, and especially on the promotion side, as they get ready to take over full production next year, said Finchem. But the promotion this year has been, we think, very, very good indeed. Thus we think we're well positioned to take off next year.
Irwin, injured much of the year with a problem back, won two times this season. At 58 years old, he increased his Champions Tour record to 38 victories, the ninth consecutive season that he has won at least twice. Some say he is playing even better than when he was on the regular tour. That is definitely possible, says Tom Jenkins.
All of a sudden, there wasn't a distraction about having to make a cut, explained Jenkins. And I think that's probably the biggest difference in players that had decent careers on the regular tour. You know, the cut was a major, a major thing on Fridays out there.
For some reason I never got over that. I was always concerned about the cuts. And now all of a sudden you don't have a cut, you go out and play, and mentally it made it so much easier and I think those three things alone, if you had any game at all and you work at it, you should be able to succeed out here.
Kite, for one, says the some facets of his game are definitely better than were on the regular tour, while some may not be so good.
I wish that I had the golf swing 25 years ago that I have right now, said Kite. I wish I had the conditioning 25 years ago that I have now. I think I would have won a lot more tournaments.
Obviously, I did a lot of great things with the short game back then that really carried me and saved me an awful lot from my wedges and my chipping, my bunker play and putting. That part of the game is not as sharp as what it used to be.
The Champions Tour should be just as impressive in 2004. Sam Torrance comes from Scotland to try to qualify. Jay Haas and Peter Jacobsen both will turn 50, as will Keith Fergus, Mike Reid, Ron Streck and John Adams.