Consider it the ultimate mulligan. On April 13, Davis Love III turns 50 and will, for the first time since 1986, enjoy all the excitement and ridicule of being a rookie.
So, how many times does Love intend on playing the Champions Tour in 2014?
“Being cocky, I’d say zero,” he smiled on Sunday following the final round of the PNC Father/Son Challenge.
It’s not as though Love has an aversion to the over-50 circuit – as if 54-hole, no-cut events were a reason to pack it in – and he’s hardly the only player in recent years to choose not to go quietly into his golden years.
Vijay Singh turned 50 in February and played one Champions Tour event this year. In 2010, Kenny Perry’s rookie year featured just 10 starts on the senior circuit, and Tom Pernice Jr. also made 10 starts his rookie year in ’10, less than half the number of events he played on the PGA Tour that year.
For players like Love and Singh, the draw of the big leagues is impossible to ignore. This isn’t about misplaced confidence or unrealistic expectations so much as it is an internal clock that is still a few minutes short of competitive midnight.
“I’ll know,” Love said. “I feel like I can still play (on the PGA Tour) and I don’t feel like I am struggling to make cuts.”
In Love’s case, significant neck surgery in February led to a condensed season in 2013 and, in a converse way, a new outlook on the game at the highest level. The 20-time Tour winner estimates his arm and neck strength is at about 80 percent and explained that Peyton Manning needed a full year to recover from a similar procedure.
“Peyton had a tough year after surgery but came back better than ever the next year,” Love said. “It normally takes about a full year to recover and I owe myself a couple of years on Tour.”
Statistically, it’s hard to disagree with Love’s decision. In 2012, before being shelved on the DL by his doctor, he ranked 39th on Tour in driving distance and 52nd in going for the green on par 5s.
Truth is, Love’s reluctance has become the norm among freshly minted seniors – a byproduct of distance gains through better technology and the overall improved health and fitness of Tour types.
Paul Goydos, who turns 50 on June 20, had an identical take when asked how many Champions Tour events he would play in 2014?
“In an ideal world zero. It’s going to depend on how I play in the 16 events I have left on my (PGA Tour) medical (exemption),” texted Goydos, who needs to earn about $590,000 to retain his Tour card.
Other members of the 2014 rookie class, however, plan to make the most of the opportunities the senior circuit presents.
“How many tournaments do they have?” joked Billy Andrade, who turns 50 on Jan. 25, when asked his Champions Tour schedule in 2014.
In practical terms, Love estimates he will play a half dozen times before he turns 50 and his primary goals going into next year are to qualify for the U.S. and British Opens and The Players.
In fact, he currently only has one senior event tentatively scheduled for 2014, the Nature Valley First Tee Open because, “it’s at Pebble Beach and I love Pebble Beach,” and in a best-case scenario would like to start 2015 playing three consecutive weeks in Hawaii (the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and Sony Open on the PGA Tour and Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the senior circuit).
Like a growing number of just-turned 50 year olds, Love is every bit a reluctant senior.
“I’m very reluctant,” he said. “I thought about that today, ‘Am I being a jerk?’ But I don’t feel like I’ve given it my best.”
No, that’s not being a jerk. For a growing number of fifty-somethings it’s just being realistic.