Making the most of a break Winner: Bob Dickson took a 15-year respite from tournament golf, but he saw his career come full circle with his first Senior PGA win 25 years after his last PGA Tour victory.

July 01, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The Senior PGA Tour is filled with stories about players who spent much of their lives out of the limelight and became overnight success stories after the age of 50. But even Walter Morgan and Jim Albus and Tom Wargo were winning tournaments somewhere.

Bob Dickson was hardly playing golf.

"I played the PGA Tour for 10 years," Dickson said yesterday by way of introduction, standing on the practice range at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia as he prepared for this week's State Farm Senior Classic. "And then I took a 15-year break."

The only golf Dickson played was with some friends near his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he worked for the PGA Tour, first in marketing and later as tournament director for the Hogan Tour. "They would put me down as a 4 or 5 handicap," he said. "But I never played to that."

It was shortly before his 50th birthday four years ago that Dickson decided to give the Senior Tour a try. He played it with non-exempt status for three years and found a modest amount of success before earning exempt status by winning the tour's Qualifying School in the fall of 1996.

Dickson had his best season last year, missing by one spot to be among the 31 players invited to the Senior Tour Championship. He finished second twice, was in the top 10 four times and wound up making a career-high $480,521. But he had played erratically this year.

"My confidence has ebbed and flowed, but the low ebb was in Canada 10 days ago," said Dickson, who switched putters three months ago and was also working in a new set of irons. "I was upset and disappointed. I had squandered some opportunities to win out here. Who knew my turn was about to come?'

Dickson's turn came Sunday at the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, N.J. A final-round 70 had left him at 9-under-par 207 in the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic. When Jim Colbert missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, it put him into a playoff with Dickson and Senior Tour rookie Larry Nelson.

A 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death gave Dickson his first Senior Tour victory.

It was his first win in a tournament -- any tournament -- in 25 years. His last victory had come in the 1973 Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational. He also won the 1968 Haig Open as a rookie. He quit the tour at age 34.

"I needed to get away from the game," said Dickson, who in 1967 had become the first player in 32 years to win both the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in the same year. "Everyone says they need a break, I just didn't know it would last so long. You don't know if you can restart the engines."

Now that he has won again, Dickson might have to rethink his goals. The $165,000 check he received for winning pushed his earnings for this year to $390,147 and his rank to 16th on the money list. It also changed his profile, if not his priorities.

But there was a cautionary tone to his words yesterday.

"When I won the first time on the PGA Tour six months into my rookie year, I thought, 'Hey, I can do that.' I thought it was easy," he recalled. "I didn't win again for five years. I know that it's just as tough out here to win, but I now know I can do it when I get into that position."

Not that his victory was without its moment of panic. Tied for the lead on the next-to-last hole of regulation, Dickson's ball was on the green but was farther away from the cup than Colbert's ball, which was in a green-side bunker.

As Colbert stood in the trap, neither Dickson nor his caddie noticed that the flagstick was still in the cup. He putted, and was grateful that he left a 50-footer eight feet short. Had his ball hit the flagstick, it would have meant a two-shot penalty.

"It's one of the few times you want to leave a ball short," said Dickson, who made the putt for par.

Watching Dickson was a helpless feeling for his regular caddie -- even more than usual since Mark Bollick was at his family's home in Hickory, N.C. Bollick, who has worked for Dickson since he joined the Senior Tour, had taken the week off to attend his parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

"It was fun to watch, but it was a lot more nerve-wracking to watch than it would have been there," Bollick said. "I told him that he owed me one. I want to see it again."

Dickson knows winning back-to-back might be difficult.

But what would you expect from a guy who went a quarter of a century between wins?

If you're going

What: State Farm PGA Senior Classic

Where: Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, 1130 Willow Bottom Road, Columbia

When: Through Sunday

Tickets: $25 per day

Information: 410-964-0900

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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