Word filtered over from Hawaii that he did it again the past weekend. He got the better of Tom Kite near the end of the Turtle Bay Championship, then just slammed the door. As Sunday evening was drawing to an end, here was Old Man Irwin, once again giving what must have become a very boring victory speech.
I say boring, because he has done it now 38 times on just the Champions (nee Senior) Tour. If he doesnt have it down pat by now, God didnt make little green apples. He started this winning on the Champions kinda slow, taking just two tournaments his first year in 1995, then just two more in 1996. But once he got the hang of it with nine victories in 1997, he opened the sluice gates. Win after win after win came spilling out, and the rest of the Champions Tour still hasnt figured out how to stop it.
Irwin himself will probably do it soon enough, anyway. He has the back of an 80-year-old man. When it is acting up, heaven help poor Hale. He spent most of the summer at its mercy, wheeling around the golf courses like a Chevy on three wheels. Most of the golfing public figured he was probably finished ' after all, the man was 58, for crying out loud! When he went down at the U.S. Open this summer with back spasms, carted out of the playing field with feet up, that appeared to be just about it for Irwin.
But ' here he is back again. And who knows when he will stop winning?
Irwin won the Kinkos Classic in Austin in May. The back started doing its thing in June. The last three tournaments he finished in a tie for 42nd, a tie for 21st and a tie for 38th. They were preparing the farewell dinner.
But then, Irwin jumps up and beats the field at the Turtle Bay event. How do you figure?
Simple, says Irwin. All it took was for the pain to subside. That, plus a little uncomfortable weather. The man who will forever be known for prevailing in the 1979 U.S. Open despite weather more fitting for seals than humans took charge this time in 20 mile per hour winds and squalling rains. If you can ever get this guy in weather where you wear short-sleeved shirts, youve got a chance. Any time you play in your rain suits, forget it. Irwin has a huge advantage in foul weather.
'This certainly helps smooth over some disappointment from this summer with my back, not being able to play at the level I hoped I'd play,' Irwin said. 'This is the first week I've not had some issues with my back so perhaps ... it's certainly not 100 percent, but I'm well on the way now. It could not have come at a better place or better time for me.'
His win at this event last year was his fourth of the season ' at age 57. Someday you assume hes got to slow down. But its not going to be in the foreseeable future.
He still belts the ball out there ' 273 yards on his drives. He is fifth on the tour in driving accuracy, third in greens hit in regulation. More importantly, he is fourth on the tour in scoring average ' despite his back-breaking summer.
Dont ever forget, though, that he was playing over the weekend in Hawaii. When he plays in Hawaii, he wins ' period.
He has gobbled up three Senior Skins in Hawaii, and that doesnt mean much except that it is with three pretty good players and they pay a lot of money. But he has won this event three other times in a row ' Sunday was his fourth in succession. He also won the Hawaiian Open and the MasterCard Championship.
It adds to $3.5 million for Hale in Hawaii. Most people go to Hawaii to SPEND money. Irwin goes to Hawaii and mines it.
'Fortunately I've been able to play well here, he says in aw-shucks fashion. I'm comfortable playing in the wind, comfortable here in Hawaii. I've had too much success to say different. I'm very glad.
If the other players would let me mail it in next year I'd still come.'
Theres not much chance of that happening. The others know that as long as Hale can swing a club, he is eminently capable of winning. Its not the age on the spine, its the size of the wallet on the hip.
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