Call him a rabbit or a journeyman, whatever golf vernacular is deemed appropriate, but Dick Mast’s career in golf can definitely be labeled enduring and admirable.
This week at the PGA Tour Champions’ stop in upstate New York for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, Mast will be the oldest participant at age 70 when the field begins its 54-hole event Friday at En-Joie Golf Club. His qualifying accomplishment earlier this week, shooting 5 strokes below his age (65) in a Tuesday qualifier, drew attention throughout the golf world, which could simply be a preamble to an even more notable weekend.
“A couple years ago, I would have said if I broke my age every day I would win the tournament,” Mast said on Wednesday evening, noting he hasn’t kept track of his age-breaking marks. “I guess that doesn’t apply anymore. Guess I have to go lower.”
Mast compared his station in life to that of Phil Mickelson following the 50-year-old Lefty’s victory at the PGA Championship in May.
“Phil inspired the 40-year-olds with that win,” Mast said. “I guess I want to inspire the 60-year-olds.”
Mast’s golf career began before just about the entirety of the current PGA Tour player list and many of the newbies who are maturing into the age-50 and older circuit were born. After playing collegiately at multiple national champion St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College (the program is now defunct) and earning a business degree in 1971, Mast turned professional in 1972 at age 21.
Two years later, he made his first PGA Tour start — “I had never seen a PGA Tour event or course before,” he said — at the 1974 Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational under the name “Richard Mast.” He shot an opening 66 and finished tied for 16th. That earned a $2,465 check. No one in that field 47 years ago is still playing, including the likes of winner Bobby Nichols, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd and Gary McCord – at least on a full-time basis.
Since that debut, Mast has found a place to play, whether it be the PGA or the Champions tour. On the Korn Ferry Tour, he earned his only four PGA Tour-sponsored wins, with three coming in the 1990 inaugural season when it was called the Ben Hogan Tour and when Hogan was still alive. He is also a Florida mini-tour legend, having won dozens of events over the decades. In total, on PGA Tour-affiliated tours, Mast has accumulated 653 starts and just a shade more than $4 million in earnings. He has been paired with both ends of the spectrum — Billy Casper all the way to Patrick Reed. He was in the same groups when Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink and Isao Aoki made their first career Tour starts.
Even though the PGA Tour doesn’t track week-of qualifying records, Mast has been a blur there. Before the all-exempt tour, he ran among the so-called rabbits going from week to week to get in events. In 2005, he Monday qualified for the Hawaiian Open, shot a second-round 64, made the cut and finished tied for 47th. That Sunday evening, he hopped a red-eye, flew to San Diego and Monday qualified for what was then called the Buick Invitational — at age 54. He pulled the same double at age 59 in 2010, successfully Monday spotting for events at The Greenbrier and Turning Stone that August.
So what’s the secret to this durability? Mast has always been a proponent of healthy living and a focus on religion, for starters. Today, he is disciplined with a daily routine of stretching in the morning and evening and taking in powdered drinks to sustain his rounds. Mast even recommends a throwback name with the usage of the Chuck Norris Total Gym — without the dustups against bad guys, of course.
A revolutionary procedure may have been the key in recent years. Suffering back issues in the mid-2010s, he contemplated hanging up his soft spikes. But then he tried Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for 5 months and, in combination with his usual fitness routine, was invigorated. The injections of a concentration of Mast’s own platelets accelerated the healing process.
“It was an amazing transformation,” Mast said. “I still like to swing hard at the golf ball and that did the trick.”
A couple weeks ago, Mast’s second-youngest son, Jacob, now his instructor and boss at Poplar Grove Golf Club in Amherst, Va., was testing his father’s swing on a measuring device. The head professional at Poplar Grove told the facility’s lead golf instructor that Mast was flying his drives 280 yards and 5-irons 200 yards, astounding figures for a 70-year-old man who dreamed of that length 50 years ago. The work the two have done to keep Mast’s swing limber has prolonged his career, in a western Virginia setting that includes five of Mast’s six sons and 14 grandchildren all within close proximity. The sixth son, Joshua, is dad’s former caddie, now serving as a major and prosecuting attorney in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Jacob researches all types of things that help my swing, create more leverage and the mental aspects of the game,” Mast said. “It’s been a great team.”
Perhaps the biggest attribute is Mast’s competitive fire. He plays his best when paired with the marquee players and says he would “spike a ping pong ball into my mother’s belly to get the winning point.” He gets that drive from his father, Ken, a left-handed club pro who was nicknamed the “Sugar Creek Flash” in Mast’s native Ohio.
“I still think he wants to prove something to himself,” Jacob said. “He wants to get that one big win. He’s got the length to do that, still.”
All the signs are there for a successful week. He’ll tee it up Friday morning with Cliff Kresge and David Morland IV; at age 52 both are 18 years younger than Mast. The last winner at En-Joie, in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, was qualifier Doug Barron. Mast has contended in 2012 and 2014 after qualifying for the event and recorded three top-10s at the tournament when it was called the B.C. Open on the PGA Tour. Mast’s caddie will be Victor Cias, who was on his bag in 2014 when Mast nearly won the tournament.
“I’m really playing well right now,” Mast said. “The biggest factor and question may be if I can do it one day or two days but can I be at my best all three days? Just get in contention and see how I do. I’ve been doing that for a long time.”