Jake Irwin - and Championships


It was a superstar-in-training paying homage to a guy whos been a superstar for decades now. Peter Jacobsen had just wrested away the Ford Senior Players championship from the grasp of Hale Irwin, and funnyman Jake all of a sudden was very introspective.
He has been the most successful Champions Tour player, Jake said flatly. For me to hang with and eventually beat Hale Irwin is a proud moment for me.
Hale and I have been playing against each other for a long time. He's 60 years old, I'm 51. When I came out on the tour, he was already an established star. I've got tremendous respect for Hale not only as a player, but as a person, too.
Hes always been this kind of guy, Peter Jacobsen. His golf career has always been that of a good journeyman player, interspersed with moments of brilliance. Much of the up-and-down nature of his play has had to do with injuries, of course. But one thing has always been constant ' his respect for people. Ask Irwin.
He's always been kind to me, said Jacobsen just moments after he had defeated Irwin. I've said many times that, because of the alphabetical order of our names and locker assignments, he and I either lockered together or were next door neighbors. We've gotten to know each other very, very well over the years.
While I've got great respect for him as a player, there's nobody you'd rather beat than a great player. For me to come on top over Hale is a proud thing for me.
Jacobsen won by a stroke when Irwins 12-foot slider barely curved around the edge of the cup on the 72nd hole. Jake fully expected to be marching down to the18th tee to begin a playoff with Irwin ' much as the two had done in 1981 at the Buick Open up the road in Flint.
That one was a four-player affair ' Jacobsen, Irwin, Gil Morgan and Bobby Clampett. All four parred the first playoff hole. On the second, Irwin sunk a coast-to-coast 40-foot birdie. Yes, he made it, even though Jake, Morgan and Clampett all hit their approaches inside him. Hale has been a great player a long time, said Peter, remembering all the many hundreds of occasions when Irwin has done something similar to yet another player.
Jacobsen, himself, has been a pretty spectacular player on the Champions Tour. He won the U.S. Senior Open Championship last year in his first Champions major, before adding the Ford Senior this year. And in so doing, he continues to play the regular tour also. Thats because he won on the regular tour in 2003 in Hartford, and therefore received a two-year exemption.
I fought for 29 years to keep my card, he said by way of explanation. It's hard to turn around and walk away when you turn 50. You're going to see a lot of players in my same category.
I think that strengthens the Champions Tour to see players playing both tours. It's kind of a blurring of the edges, so to speak. These guys out here on the Champions Tour, they're as competitive as anybody on the regular tour. Coming down the stretch, a Hale Irwin or Dana Quigley or Tom Watson is pretty tough.
There it is again ' that guy named Irwin. Jake remembers his first tournament as a Champions Tour member last year, when he and Irwin were paired together the final round. And although Irwin is winding down his career and Jacobsen just gearing up, Peter knows there will never be another quite like Hale Irwin.
Hale has dominated this Champions Tour like no other player and probably will, he said.
I think the Champions Tour is only going to get stronger as the younger players start turning 50. I'm probably in the generation that when the Champions Tour came to fruition, we realized that, hey, there's life after 50, there's life after the PGA Tour. So you're going to see more and more players coming out on the Champions Tour that can win.
I'm not sure Hale's record will ever be in jeopardy. What he's done out here is phenomenal.
Email your thoughts to George White