Elders Change Tours at Hope

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Well, maybe this is the way the field should be at a golf tournament in Palm Springs. In what has become a retirement capital of the U.S., the desert is loaded with the names of over-50 golfers this week.
 
Of course, theres Jay Haas, but then the 51-year-old is playing a full regular-tour schedule again this year. He never did make the transition to the Champions Tour last year, save for four tournaments. Ditto Peter Jacobsen, who went half-and-half last year.
 
But for the remainder of the Champions regulars, this is a little unusual. Oh, Tom Kite at 55 says he is going to try the PGA Tour again as a regular member. But all are playing hookey from the elder tour, which plays this week in Hawaii at the Turtle Bay Championship. There are only 128 pros in the field at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic as the amateurs fan out on the four courses. But six elders are 50 or over, meaning there are only 122 others in this regular-tour tournament.
 
Craig Stadler at 51 is teeing it up again, but that is primarily so he can play once again with son Kevin. Mark McCumber, 53, is entered based on a requirement that states anyone who won a Tournament Players Championship can play ' McCumber won in 1988. Lanny Wadkins, 51, won the Hope in 1985 and was invited to play. Jacobsen won in 1990. Stadler won here way back 25 years ago, in 1980. Kite won it in 93.
 
Jacobsen, Stadler and Kite all played in the Sony Open in Hawaii, and all three made the cut, incidentally. Stadler shocked quite a few when he finished way up, tying for ninth place and earning $124,000 on the strength of two closing 67s. Jacobsen, who dipped into the regular-tour cookie jar for $232,852 last year in 10 outings, came away with $32,640 by tying for 28th. And Kite was sailing along quite nicely until he shot 75 in the final round and finished tied for 72nd, earning $9,264.
 
How much of an improvement was this over similar payoffs on their own tour? Well, Stadler could expect to earn about $48,000 on the Champions Tour for placing T9 ' a difference of approximately $76 thou. Jacobsen would have earned somewhere around $12,000, which is a difference of around $20,000. And Kite would have earned only a little over $1,000 - approximately $8,000 less than he did at the Sony.
 
Expect the old-timers to do well at the Hope, too. They can easily reach the greens with short irons ' the Hope has some of the shortest courses on tour. And the fact that the holes must be pretty accessible to get all the amateurs around is another plus for the Champions members. In short, length doesnt mean much here. A Stadler or a Kite or a Jacobsen, for example, could finish high up again.
 
Stadler thought he was all finished with playing the regular tour, outside of the Masters. But that was before son Kevin earned his card for 2005. Now, Craig has had to rethink his decision, and he has had some eye-opening results.
 
I think that, to go out when you are 48 or 49 and still prove to these young guys that you can still play with them ' its a lot less pressure (on the Champions Tour), its a lot easier in that regard, he had said last year. Add two and two together and you get a lot more enjoyable time.
 
The lure of these father-son reunions has changed things, however.
 
And Kite? He decided he could still play with the juniors when he qualified for the U.S. Open last year over 36 heat-baked holes outside Houston. He went to Shinnecock and had an absolute ball, he said, while easily making the cut with the kids. And since he still was among the top 50 in career money on the regular tour, he decided to give it a try this season.
 
No question, you miss it, Kite said. I mean, if you've ever played in the big leagues, that's where you want to play. Hey, you may not be capable of it and I don't know that I'm capable of it - we're going to find out over the next couple of months whether I am - but this is the tour everybody wants to play on.
 
Jacobsens win in 2003 at Hartford means he is exempt for one more year on the PGA Tour. And he has been wavering ever since about going to the Champions. Last year he played 10 events on the regular tour, nine on the Champions.
 
It's really hard to turn your - to let go of a career that you fought to have for so many years, he said. I feel like I've got the best of both worlds.
 
The success of Haas has spurred on several of the over-50s to liberally sprinkle their schedule with regular-tour events. Larry Nelson said in the off-season he would like to try switching tours more often. Haas, Jacobsen and Kite plan on playing regularly with the kids.
 
Gosh, it looks like these elders just wont act their age. And that will be even more so if one of them jumps and gets another top 10 at the Hope this week.
 
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