Seniors Face Disturbing Dilemma


Its a disturbing question, probably broached at length in the back rooms of Senior Tour officials: Do they want the best caliber of play, or do they want the biggest names? Is their Tours purpose to showcase the bigger names? Or do they want the best players, regardless of whether they made a dime on the PGA Tour?

Oh, how professional golf is changing. And the change is felt by the over-50s more so than anywhere else. The youngsters who are coming up routinely rake in $1 million a year. Last year the number who achieved the millionaire mark reached 45, and that number is bound to grow every season. That is not particularly good news for the gents who run the Senior Tour.

Look at the players who will turn 50 in the next few years. Greg Norman. Nick Faldo. Ian Woosnam. Mark OMeara. Bernhard Langer. Hal Sutton. Seve Ballesteros. Nick Price. Fred Couples. All are financially set for life. Unfortunately for the Senior Tour, they dont need the dough. They might play a tournament here and there, but you can forget them playing 25-to-30.

Those days are long gone. It was customary for Miller Barber or Don January or Chi Chi Rodriguez or Lee Trevino to put in those kinds of weeks playing with the Seniors. Those guys could use the money. They played their golf before the boom hit, and the winners checks did make a difference.

But Greg Norman? Nick Price? They may play here and there, but they are far too comfortable to worry about where their next jet is coming from.

The guys who won the tournaments of the 90s are in the same situation. They are rich already. They may get out to play a little social golf, but tournament play will no longer be their occupation when they reach 50. They wont have an occupation ' or need one.

This change actually began a decade ago, about the time Jack Nicklaus reached the magic age. He was the first to play less than 10 a year. Then came Tom Weiskopf. The last couple of years brought Tom Watson. Now the big money on the regular tour is really big.

The point being, the multi-millionaires are not going to play much on the Senior Tour. I didnt really believe it until I saw Watson. Norman has said over and over that he doesnt plan to play much. But why should they? A million dollars just doesnt mean what it used to. No, not when youve got 20 of them.
I know, I know, the top names have been saying that for years. And when it came time to blow out 50 candles, they couldnt resist the siren call of dollar bills. But its different now. The pension plan, for one thing, ensures that no one goes without their Porsche having plenty fuel. Thats if the money they have socked away should run below five mil or so.

Meanwhile, the Mike McCulloughs, the Allen Doyles and Dana Quigleys are going to rule more and more. Somewhere, theres a 47-year-old club pro whos practicing every day now whos going to whomp the daylights out of Ben Crenshaw. There are plenty of guys who can play this game, guys who didnt have a chance to belly up to the money trough when they were younger. Bens won a couple of majors, 19 over-all. He has a lovely wife and a couple of daughters. Meanwhile, this anonymous chap has no children running around the family foyer and he has yet to make $100,000 in a year. Who do you think is going to put in more time getting ready for this second swipe at the money jar?

A lot of the guys have eased up considerably as they approach 50. Bad move, particularly if they have Senior Tour designs. Rodriguez was lamenting just last week the Tours decision this year to make the courses tougher and longer. No longer can you come out, smile and wave and sign autographs and collect your checks. Add another big plus to the side of Mr. Anonymous. He will be ready for the 6,900-yard courses. Some of the guys in the final years of the regular tour are getting short-short-shorter.

That, of course, assumes the status quo, and the status quo of the Senior Tour isnt real bright at the moment. You need to pipe in the light to find the television numbers, now that the Senior Tour brass has decided to tape events and show them for an 8 oclock end. And the lack of real star-power is worrisome, particularly when the stars already have it all and just dont need another golf tournament to nail down a couple hundred thousand.

The next four years look bleak indeed. Mac OGrady turned 50 this week, but hes a walking MASH refugee. Same with Mark McCumber and Fuzzy Zoeller, who also turn 50 this year. Bruce Lietzke might change the landscape a little, but he doesnt play more than 15 a year.

Next year? Crenshaw turns 50, but it appears he has better things to do. In 2003 theres Craig Stadler and Jay Haas. In 2004 you have Peter Jacobsen, who has had a laundry list of injuries. A lot of other guys are going to join them. Undoubtedly some will make it big, a Doug Tewell or Bruce Fleisher, but there will be no one to carry the Tour like an Arnold Palmer or Trevino or a Rodriguez.

The landscape the next 10 years or so looks a little bleak. A decision must be made how many tournaments will survive, and what the main emphasis will be as far as players are concerned. Does the Tour want names? Or do they want players? Who will shape the future of the senior game? Tewell, McCullough, Fleisher and Doyle are unquestionably great guys, but they cant sustain enough interest to keep the Tour healthy.

Norman, Langer, Faldo, Price et al could, but they just arent interested. Is there an answer?
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