Champions farewell

May 05, 2008

A longtime golf acquaintance of mine, who is set in his ways and never short of opinions, told me recently I was "the only person in America who cares even a little about the senior tour." While I don't agree with that judgment, the Champions Tour is a niche of competition and entertainment, and I am proud to have paid more attention to it than most people while covering it regularly since 2001.

Perhaps illogically -- given that I just got my first AARP mailing a few weeks ago, my knees can creak like one of the septuagenarians jousting in the Demaret division at the Legends of Golf and the salt is outnumbering the pepper on the barber's floor after a haircut -- I am taking leave of the Champions Tour in favor of some different assignments. I do so with mixed emotions.

While senior golf is far removed from the days when it was a novelty -- when it was not yet widely realized that golfers 50-and-older could possess plenty of game -- there is still something valiant about the pursuit of excellence by golfers who feel they have something left to prove.

There is no doubt the current seniors owe some of their ability to the evolution in equipment. Many of them hit the ball farther than they did in their primes thanks to the pep of the golf balls and clubheads and lightweight shafts of today. You can argue the appropriateness of such advances on the PGA Tour all you want, but it is inarguable that they have extended the meaningful golf lives of seniors. You see nervous putts and blown leads on the Champions Tour -- equipment-van magic and fitness-trailer regimens can slow time but not stop it -- but you also see many shots PGA Tour pros would be glad to have struck.

Those who are dismissive of the senior tour usually never have bothered to see for themselves what it is all about. They don't see the time these players (the ones who make any kind of mark, anyway) put into their games. They have not stopped to consider how remarkable Hale Irwin's senior career has been. They haven't noticed how fired up Tom Watson still gets when he has a shot that matters. They haven't watched Loren Roberts or Jay Haas, supporting actors during their PGA Tour careers, develop into stars.

I will miss Allen Doyle's swing and Dana Quigley's smile, both of them among the best folks in sports, genuine men who are genuinely grateful for the gold-plated mulligan that came their way. Most of their peers are that way, too. I've found there are a lot more good guys than grumpy journeymen but cannot fathom why any senior golfer would be less than thrilled to be out there. In the real world, for many, turning 50 means fearing layoffs more often than getting a second chance to do what you love.

Memories Sitting in a pitch-black tent at Salem CC interviewing Jack Nicklaus at the 2001 U.S. Senior Open after the power went out; watching Don Pooley and Watson trade good shots at the dramatic conclusion of the 2002 U.S. Senior Open; seeing John Jacobs step up his game to win the 2003 Senior PGA Championship; watching Bruce Edwards (above) bravely go about his job in his last year as a caddie for Watson despite knowing he didn't have much time left. Mostly, though, I enjoyed good times watching golfers playing a game that has been very good to them -- and them for it.