With shot to begin again, Jenkins regains footing Conditional qualifier for Senior Tour, rookie leads State Farm by 1

Senior Classic

July 04, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

There was a 12-year gap between the end of his lackluster career on the PGA Tour and the beginning of his new life on the Senior Tour. In that time, Tom Jenkins worked as a club pro and helped putting guru Dave Pelz start his nationally known short-game schools.

Jenkins didn't think much about continuing a career that had produced one victory and memories such as leading the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach after five holes and playing in the 1976 Masters, the result of his two-shot victory over Johnny Miller the previous year in Philadelphia.

Last summer, as his 50th birthday was fast approaching, Jenkins was not in any shape to try qualifying for the Senior Tour. He had tendinitis in his right elbow after suffering from a similar condition in his left elbow. But one of his old college friends from the University of Houston, Bob McFadden, kept calling him, encouraging Jenkins to give it a try.

"I couldn't prepare. I couldn't hit a lot of golf balls," said Jenkins. "One day in the middle of September, I woke up one morning and the tendinitis was gone. I crammed a year's worth of work into two months."

With McFadden carrying his bag, Jenkins finished 10th at the Senior Tour's Qualifying School to gain conditional status for the current season. He has gone from Monday qualifying to being the first or second alternate.

After three straight top-10 finishes, Jenkins took a step toward becoming a fully exempt player for at least a year when he shot a 7-under par 65 yesterday to take the first-round lead in the inaugural $1.25 million State Farm Senior Classic at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia.

Jenkins leads reigning U.S. Senior Open champion Graham Marsh by one stroke. Three players -- two-time Senior major winner and two-time PGA champion Dave Stockton, Tom Shaw and Terry Dill -- are two shots behind at 5-under par 67.

Lee Trevino is one of four players at 4-under par 68 and Hale Irwin, the Senior Tour's leading money-winner, is one of eight at 3-under-par 69. More than half the field -- 41 of the 78 who started -- finished under par. Included in that group was Arnold Palmer, who birdied his last three holes just to get there to 1-under.

"I got off to a bad start," Palmer, 68, said after finishing his third straight round under par after not shooting under par all year. "I missed a number of short putts and a number of shots. I was disappointed, no question about it. I felt confident coming in. The good news is that [my game] picked up and reared its head again."

It seemed as if Jenkins didn't miss anything yesterday, either on the green or from the fairway.

After making three birdies on the front nine and then saving par with a recovery shot through some tree branches on the #F 325-yard 12th hole, Jenkins made four straight birdies beginning on the 13th.

On each of the first three holes -- two par-4s and a par-5 -- Jenkins hit his approach within a foot of the cup, the first two with 7-irons and the third with a pitching wedge. After hitting a 6-iron to 15 feet on the par-3 16th hole, Jenkins made another birdie putt.

"It was as good as I've seen anybody hit middle irons since I've been on the tour," said Dill, whose own round included a spectacular approach shot on the 18th hole, when he hit 3-wood from 255 yards to within three feet and made the putt for eagle.

It equaled Jenkins' best score of the year, which came in the opening round of the AT&T Canadian Senior Open two weeks ago. There, Jenkins led after each of the first two rounds. He tied for second a week after tying for seventh and a week before he ZTC tied for eighth.

"I could've won the last two events if things would have gone right at the right time," said Jenkins, a former college teammate of fellow Senior Tour rookie John Mahaffey. "Sometimes you have to let the subconscious take over and let things go."

Jenkins already has had some thrills as a Senior Tour rookie. He got to play the final round of a tournament in Philadelphia in May with Jack Nicklaus and the first round of a tournament in Pittsburgh last month with Palmer.

"Playing with those guys, you start thinking, 'I can do this,' " said Jenkins, who made a total of $471,242 in 13 years on the PGA Tour.

One of the reasons Jenkins quit the PGA Tour in 1985 was because he and his former wife were trying to raise their then 4-year old daughter back home in Texas. The marriage ended two years ago, and his daughter, Melani Anne, is now in college.

"I felt like I wasn't out there 100 percent," said Jenkins, whose best year was in 1981, when he earned $78,127. "Now I've got no responsibilities. Certainly, winning anywhere would be wonderful. I'm doing what I want to do. I'm where I want to be."

His rookie year was nearly detoured by a cancer scare in January. Five years ago, Jenkins noticed a bump protruding over his left eyebrow. When the bump continued to enlarge, Jenkins had it checked out. It was a sarcoma, a malignant soft-tissue tumor.

"It wasn't life-threatening," said Jenkins, who had the tumor removed as an outpatient before undergoing 33 radiation treatments. "I don't want to make a big deal about it. I don't want people coming up to me and saying they feel sorry for me."

If he continues to play the way he did yesterday, they might be offering Jenkins something else: congratulations on his first Senior Tour victory.

Senior Classic

The leader . . .

Tom Jenkins 65 . . .

and selected followers

Graham Marsh 66

Terry Dill 67

Dave Stockton 67

Tom Shaw 67

Lee Trevino 68

Hale Irwin 69

Pub Date: 7/04/98

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