55 great divide for touring seniors

Stats say few winners cross PGA age barrier

July 02, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The numbers are telling.

Of the first 20 tournament winners on the Senior PGA Tour this season, none has been older than 55. The two most dominant players have been rookies Bruce Fleisher and Allen Doyle. Only one player in the Top 20, Al Geiberger, is over 60.

Which makes it seem likely that whoever wins this week's State Farm Senior Classic will fit a profile: a player who has been out on the 50-and-over tour for five years or less and might not be a household name.

The second-year, $1.3 million tournament begins today at the Hobbit's Glen Golf Club with a 78-player field lacking in name recognition, but not in competitiveness. Of the tour's Top 10 money-winners this year, seven are here.

"Except for Hale [Irwin], everyone who is playing good is here," defending champion Bruce Summerhays said yesterday.

But Lee Trevino had a different perspective, maybe one that area golf fans might consider when deciding whether to venture out in the anticipated 90-degree heat.

"If you look at the field," Trevino said yesterday, "we had a much better field last year."

Arnold Palmer isn't here, playing far fewer tournaments as he approaches his 70th birthday in September. Neither is Irwin, who after last week's victory is resting up for next week's U.S. Senior Open.

Trevino is the player whose face adorns the tournament's promotional poster. Nearing 60, Trevino still says he can win on the Senior Tour. But he also knows how much harder it has become.

"When I first came out, I was winning everything, and Gary Player told me, `You'd better win as much as you can before you're 55, because that's when you hit the wall,' " Trevino said. "I didn't believe him. But when I turned 55, I ran into that wall."

Irwin, 54, might be the exception to the rule. After an early season slump, he has won three times in the last two months, including a seven-stroke win last week at the Ford Senior Players Championship.

"He was 21-under par on a wet course that played a lot longer than 6,900 yards," said Trevino. "I'll take [David] Duval or Tiger Woods and let them go after 21-under on that course. That man is unbelievable."

Irwin might not concede to age, but Bob Charles seems to be going through that process. At 63, Charles still cuts the same lean figure that fans remember from his years as one of the top players in the world.

Charles has won 23 tournaments on the Senior Tour, the last of which came three years ago.

"The older you get, the more difficult it becomes to win," said Charles. "I think the short game deteriorates with age."

Charles sees other problems outside his control. The limited number of spots in the field -- half of what it is at most PGA Tour events -- reduces the pool of potential champions. The quality of player is also higher than ever.

If anything, the addition of former PGA Tour stars Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins later this year and next year will likely reduce the average age of a Senior Tour winner from a little over 51 this year.

"You really try not to think about it," said Doyle, 51, who has combined with Fleisher, 50, to win seven tournaments this season. "You have to understand you have about five years to win."

The last player to win past his 60th birthday was Bruce Crampton, 61 when he won the 1997 Cadillac NFL Golf Classic.

"I don't believe my game will deteriorate in the next couple of years, because I've had the same game for 30 years," said Dana Quigley, a former club pro in Rhode Island who has won three times in his first three years on the Senior Tour.

But it's easier for players such as Quigley to deal with their droughts than it might be for those such as Trevino, Ray Floyd and other former PGA Tour stars.

After winning 13 times and being ranked in the Top 10 in his first three full years on the Senior Tour, including second twice, Floyd has gone winless the past three.

The most important gauge this week -- aside from the thermometer -- will be what kind of scores players like Fleisher, Doyle and others under the age of 56 put up. On the Senior Tour, it usually is.

Senior Classic

What: Senior PGA Tour's State Farm Senior Classic

When: Today-Sunday

Where: Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, Columbia

Course: 6,983 yards, par 72

TV: ESPN; today, 1 p.m.; tomorrow and Sunday 2 p.m.

Purse: $1.3 million, including $195,000 to winner

Defending champion: Bruce Summerhays

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