In honor of the Champions Tour holding its 1,000th event Oct. 18-20 at the touch-’em-all titled Greater Hickory Kia Classic at Rock Barn (see Bunker, page 9), I might as well just go ahead and say it: To me, the 50-and-older league
o;ers the purest golf of all.
Well, that’s nuts, right? Blasphemous even. How do lots of
carts, corporate signage and title-sponsored majors—but few
fans, little buzz and no cuts—add up to pure? Or put another
way, does anybody really care whether David Frost or Russ
Cochran catches Kenny Perry in the Charles Schwab Cup?
Regardless of the answers, the questions ignore a central
and unappreciated fact: Despite aging bodies and some
funky looking actions, these guys can still really and truly
Pro athletes often rue a cruel Catch- 22—by the time you
finally figure out what you’re doing, the body won’t let you do
it anymore. In other sports, as Yogi Berra might say, it gets
late early. In golf, it gets late late.
Which means that all the wisdom Champions Tour
players have accumulated over the decades can still be
blended with their considerable
remaining skill. For golf geeks like
myself, both the process and the result
are educational and inspiring.
If that sounds overstated, I’ll concede
some bias. Having just turned 60, I’m
probably susceptible to romanticizing
Also, covering a Champions Tour
event is a true pleasure for a golf writer.
Beyond the usual good parking and player dining-room privileges, meaningful access to the competitors—any sports
reporter’s lifeblood (rapidly thinning on the regular tour)—
is constant. And not only are the promotion-minded players
available, most of them actually welcome the attention, with
opinions to share and, often, rollicking stories to tell.
Last week my too-brief stop at the SAS Championship in
North Carolina was so enjoyable I dared to consider that guys
such as Brad Faxon, Corey Pavin, Dan Forsman, Hale Irwin
and Gil Morgan—some of whom could be di;cult subjects
when they played the regular tour—seemed glad to see me.
But it’s more than the convenience or even the friendli-
ness that draws me to the Champions Tour. I find the tour
commonly dismissed as moribund jumps with a real energy
of discovery among gatherings of its kindred spirits. Post-
round conversations on the practice tee in particular often
turn into bull sessions of swing theory and playing secrets,
unconsciously fueled by the urgency of the ticking clock and
too many years of keeping it all inside. It’s as if the war is
over and the task now beyond the still intense competition is
for all these battle-scarred masters to help each other figure
out the mystifying game.
In such a fertile atmosphere there’s no wonder top Cham-
pions Tour players believe they might be better than ever.
Though Bernhard Langer concedes he doesn’t have the
strength and flexibility he had 20 years ago, “I can make up
for that in other areas where I’m mentally better or techni-
cally better.” John Cook is certain he hits the ball longer and
more solidly and has definitely improved his playing attitude.
Rocco Mediate recently told Vartan Kupelian of PGATour.com:
“We should get better as we get older. We should know more
than everybody else knows. I got the best guys in the world
out here that ever played. If I have a question, they will
answer my question most of the time, after busting me up a
little bit after I ask it.”
At the SAS the image of one such Yoda—63-year-old
Tom Kite—stood out. As I watched him flush 7-irons, it
seemed as if the sound at impact was better than I remem-
bered from his prime. When I commented on how limber,
strong and speedy he has kept himself, Kite demurred. “Not
quite there yet.”
It’s a noble calling. Kite, like most Champions Tour win-
ners, and even non-winners, doesn’t need the prize money.
It occurs that these players are the closest thing the modern
game has to the idealized model of gentleman amateurs like
Bobby Jones, Lawson Little and Frank Stranahan, well-to-
do men who gave their all to perfect a game they played for
glory but especially for the innate joy.
That’s why I find Champions Tour players, despite their
having spent so many years in a psychologically bruising
arena, mostly happy. Would they like to be younger, more
powerful and as rich as today’s PGA Tour pros? Sure. But
so many genuinely appreciate how lucky they have been to
continue playing and living a beautiful game for the best
reason of all—because they love it.
To me, that’s as pure as it gets. N
‘Pure’ golf never grows old
It’s more than the convenience or the friendliness
that draws me to the Champions Tour.
The tour commonly dismissed as moribund
jumps with a real energy of discovery.
BY JAIME DIAZ