The most intriguing PGA Tour Champions newcomer is not who you might think
Fifty is a milestone birthday that most seem likely to celebrate melancholically, with one notable exception: professional golfers. At 50, they become rookies again, courtesy of the PGA Tour Champions.
The start of a new tour season always introduces intriguing story lines with the newcomers joining the senior circuit. Yet the most intriguing of them in 2022 is not who you might think. It is not David Duval, a former World No. 1, who turned 50 in November and will make his senior debut at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai that begins Thursday at Hualalai Golf Course in Ka’upulehu-Kona, Hawaii.
Yes, Duval, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, the last of them the 2001 Open Championship, does intrigue. So does Justin Leonard, a 12-time winner who turns 50 in June. And Bernhard Langer, who at 64 resumes his quest to equal or surpass Hale Irwin’s senior record of 45 victories. Langer, who last fall won the Charles Schwab Cup for the sixth time, has 42.
But these are known quantities and, thus, less intriguing than the career club professional, Rob Labritz, whose tearful reaction to winning the senior tour qualifier in December went viral on Twitter.
“We did it. We did it. All the sacrifice, we did it,” he said through tears while speaking to his wife via phone.”
Labritz has been the director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., and six times has been the Westchester Golf Association’s player of the year. He also has been the Metropolitan PGA Section player of the year twice and has competed in eight PGA Championships.
But this, his winning senior tour qualifying that gives him a full senior tour exemption, was something different.
“I envisioned that call a few hundred times,” he told reporters. “I’m beyond words. I have an opportunity now to just showcase my golf game, to get a bigger reach to people and make impressions and teach more. It’s a dream come true.
“I’m a club pro. I’m a club pro, man. I’ve been working the job since I was 19 and played a lot of golf. And I always kept the job in the forefront. Now, for once, I get to put my golf game at the forefront, yeah. It’s what I’ve dreamed about.”
Labritz is not eligible to play in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, so he won’t make his senior debut until the first full-field event, the Chubb Classic, in February.
Duval, meanwhile, has played only 19 PGA Tour events in the last six seasons without making a cut. “I’ve been working hard on my game and I’m excited to get the competitive juices flowing again,” he told Bret Lasky of PGATour.com.