Kite and Watson taking drives on Senior Tour

First-year players make Open debuts this year, keep ties to PGA Tour

June 29, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - They are true 'tweeners, lingering on the cusp of history. With one Foot-Joy on the fairway of the past, and one on the green of the future, Tom Watson and Tom Kite are making the slow transition to the Senior Tour.

But they're not entirely ready to go yet. Both men, part of a "class of 2000" to join the Senior Tour that included Lanny Wadkins, Andy North and Doug Tewell, still play many events on the PGA Tour, including all four major championships. It is their way of tugging on their past successes, trying to bring as much of their storied careers with them as they begin anew on the over-50 circuit.

"Well, we now have eight majors instead of only four," Kite pointed out, as he prepared for his first U.S. Senior Open Championship here at Saucon Valley Country Club. "I have enjoyed getting out [on the Senior Tour, but] it is a double-edged sword. I miss the PGA Tour. I have a lot of good friends out there ... and it is nice to get back out there."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that one of his good friends - Watson - is going through the same thing. The two played a practice round together Tuesday, and played in the same group for the first two rounds in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Both were stars on the PGA Tour, Watson known for his fiery intensity and Kite for his dogged work ethic. Both won major championships and captained Ryder Cup teams. Now, both face the expectations of their first year in a new environment.

Kite already has won two events (including a major, the 1999 Tradition) and Watson has one victory (last fall) and four second-place finishes this year. There are differences between the two tours - regular Senior events are 54 holes with no cut and are generally played on shorter courses - but the objective remains the same: to win. And this week, as they play for the senior national championship, that objective is even more pronounced.

"USGA championships always get me pumped ... because they are the toughest championships to win," said Watson, who won the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and tied for 27th this year. "I feel the same way about the U.S. Senior Open. It is the No. 1 championship as a senior player to win."

A nice sentiment for sure, but there are 155 other players in the field with similar feelings, all of them thirsting for a title. Hale Irwin has won twice this year on the Senior Tour, and has the 1998 Senior Open already on his resume. Lee Trevino, who many thought was well past his winning days, captured the Cadillac NFL Classic last week, giving the 60-year old added inspiration coming into Saucon Valley. And of course, no can forget Jack Nicklaus.

Two players, though, are the new kids on the block. The Toms, Watson and Kite, have added some spice to a tour that will soon face a day without a Bear or a King in the field. And Tiger's got some years left before he's eligible."[Watson], in my opinion, is the best ball-striker out here," said Trevino, who won the 1990 Senior Open.

That's nothing new for Watson, or Kite for that matter, since both have heard the praise and expectations since they set foot on tour. "This golf course is going to be very hard, but it is not going to be like Pebble Beach," said Kite. "You have to think that [playing the majors] is probably a little bit of an advantage. But, we'll have to wait and see."

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