This week, when he plays in the Champions Tours final major 'the JELD-WEN Tradition (TGC, Thurs. at 6 & 10:30 p.m. ET) ' Thorpe will be trying to win the tournament for the second time in three years. He stands eighth on the money list this year and has won two times. In his sixth year out on the Champions Tour, he has marched to the winners circle nine times and won $8.5 million.
In his 20 years on the regular tour, he won just three times and collected less than $2 million.
Ive always felt that I was a much better player than I showed sometimes, especially on the regular tour, he said. I didnt really work at it hard enough or do the things I needed to do to become a better player. I somehow got the idea that since I was on tour, I didnt need to work anymore. I guess I got lazy, took my talent for granted.
When he turned 50, though, his mindset changed. Another tour was awaiting him, another stab at making the very most of his talents. Thorpe grabbed at this one, and he still hasnt let go, well into his 55th year.
I realized that God had given me a second chance, said Thorpe. Not that the first chance was a washout, but I didnt really take full advantage of it.
Now, in this second time around, he has re-dedicated himself to golf. Sometimes a little maturity is needed to make one see the light. Thorpe went to work with a new zeal, and the results have been eye-opening.
As opposed to making swing changes, I made other changes, he said. My work ethics changed. I didnt care so much about the racetrack or any of the other things that used to take up so much of my time. Last year when I won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, I think I was the last person to leave the golf course every day.
Those would have been heretical words to the old Jim Thorpe ' last person on the range.' If a racetrack was within 100 miles of him, Thorpe would have found it. He goes to the track now for a little relaxation. In younger years, he went to make money.
I re-directed my priorities, Thorpe said. Now, me and Dana Quigley go to the track just as a diversion. It keeps me from other temptations ' drugs or whatnot. Ill go and sit for a couple of hours, Ill get tired of it and Ill come back to the hotel. Before, I would keep it up trying to win.
Thorpe, though, has steadily worked to shore up all aspects of his game. And though he doesnt rank in the top five in any category, he ranks in the top 20 in almost all. Consistency has become his middle name.
I worked at giving my game a chance to show up, versus trying to force it, Thorpe said. I had a back injury earlier this year and I missed four or five weeks of playing. But it was probably one of the best things that happened to me, to get away from the game. When I started practicing again, I started back with the basics.
He has had a chance to work on his wedge play, and that has paid huge dividends. When he hurt his back in March, he couldnt take a full swing. But he could swing the shorter clubs. And he discovered what a difference a proficiency with that weapon could make.
I think my short game has really improved from 100 yards in, and thats why Im playing better, he said simply.
Thorpe traditionally begins to play his best in the second half of the year. I love it when it gets hot and muggy, he says. But this is the second year the JELD-WEN has been played just outside Portland, Ore., and temperatures are forecast to be in the 70s.
The golf course we are playing we arent real familiar with, but after playing it last year for the first time, we are getting the hang of it, he said. Theyve made a few changes to it, also, which should make it very playable.
The final nine weeks of the season could spell the difference for Thorpe. He could still ease up the ladder to the tip-top echelon if he suddenly got hot. He realizes, though, that every player on tour has solid credentials. The player of the year will have survived some very good competition.
I guess we got a little break this year, mused Thorpe. Tom Watson has been hurt most of the year and hasnt played a lot of golf. Tom is a major force when he plays. Hale Irwin has been a magnificent player all year long. Tom Kite has knocked on the door several times. We have 40-50 solid players out here who can win in any given week.
To beat these guys and to even have a chance at Player of the Year, youve really played some great golf.
So has Thorpe, of course, although it took a little while for him to achieve it. He believes all his compadres on the Champions Tour are skilled golfers. Of course, he isnt overlooking a guy named Thorpe.
Theyre all are champions, they all have won golf tournaments, he said.
And - we play great golf.
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