The first thing the Senior tour needs to do is ignore its
unofficial mascot, the Energizer Bunny. It keeps going and going
and going and going...and all it does is become annoying. The
tour's season is too long. Name the last important Senior
tournament before this week. For that matter, name any
tournament since the U.S. Senior Open.
The players are tired, but to stay exempt and keep their spots
in the buffet line, the top 20 money winners have to play in
more than 30 events on average--six more than their colleagues
on the PGA Tour. Maybe that's why last week's Energizer Senior
Tour Championship at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle
Beach, S.C., seemed so anticlimactic, so quiet, so unenergized.
It was naptime.
Or maybe the problem was Myrtle Beach, the Wal-Mart of American
golf resorts, where over-50 hackers swarm across 90-plus courses
in their carts, head for early-bird specials at Bill Knapp's and
apparently load up on seashells and $3 souvenir T-shirts,
judging by the impressive number of schlocky beachwear shops.
This event is supposed to be the Senior tour's decisive grand
finale, not some sort of social security program.
It didn't help that in a week in which praise for the Dunes--a
course that places a premium on shotmaking, unlike the
pitch-and-putts at many Senior tour stops--was nearly unanimous,
the tour announced it will abandon the site. A TPC of Myrtle
Beach will be built, and the tournament will move there,
possibly by 1998, mainly so the Dunes's reportedly $100,000
rental fee can be struck from the tournament budget. Tom Fazio
and Lanny Wadkins will design the course, which will be the
100th in the Myrtle Beach area.
November 18, 1996
It also didn't help that Jay Sigel eliminated a lot of the
suspense from the event itself. After three straight 69s, the
last two in rugged conditions, Sigel had shaken off faltering
coleader Vicente Fernandez and gone into the final round with a
three-shot advantage over 60-year-old wonder Bob Charles, whose
middle- and long-iron play was as impressive as his putting.
Sigel held off a late charge by Kermit Zarley to win by two,
earn the $280,000 first prize and avoid setting a tour record
for most money won in a season without a victory.
"Geez, isn't that too bad," joked Sigel, an insurance man from
Philadelphia who ranked among the best career amateurs until
curiosity and the Senior tour's riches got the better of him. He
turned pro three years ago, as soon as he reached 50, and won
once in his rookie year. This was his first win since.
"You never know whether you can win again," said Sigel. "That's
the most rewarding part of today--getting in position and being
able to survive. I have been close so many times, and here I
was, close again. Was I going to do it or not?"
The reason for Sigel's success was simple. He eagled the par-5
15th hole on Friday and used his length to take advantage of the
par-5s all week, playing them in six under par. (He finished at
nine under.) The short-hitting Charles, on the other hand, made
only three birdies on the par-5s. He wound up tied for sixth,
seven strokes behind Sigel, although he easily won the $85,000
first prize in the Grand Masters competition for the 60-and-over
Was it Sigel's week or what? On Saturday he made a hole in one
at the 5th. On Sunday he chipped in for birdie from a difficult
lie at the 12th to widen his lead to six shots, a cushion he
needed because Zarley promptly reeled off three straight birdies.
By Saturday night a victory by Sigel seemed certain to Dave
Stockton, with whom he had dinner. "Dave said, 'On your way to
Hawaii come out and stay with us,'" Sigel said. "I said, 'What?
What's in Hawaii?' He said, 'The Tournament of Champions.' I
said, 'Get out of here.' But now I'll think about it."
So the finish wasn't terribly tense, especially after Sigel,
holding a two-shot lead, hit his approach close at the 18th. The
more captivating story, by default, was the dustup between Hale
Irwin and Jim Colbert, which may or may not have escalated into
a small rivalry. The media, faced with the blandness of the
Senior tour, pounced on the slightly snippy exchanges between
the two players. It was not a big deal, but this is not a big
pond. It started when Colbert won the Vantage Championship on
Sept. 29, closed to within striking distance of Irwin in the
money race and crowed about it. "I've always admitted it was
important to me," said Colbert, who had won last year's money
title and relished being No. 1 for the first time.
Irwin skipped the next two tournaments and downplayed the
importance of the money title. Told of Colbert's remarks, Irwin
said, "Jim makes a lot of things important." Then he imitated
Colbert's trademark hand waggle.
Last week both players tried to extinguish the brushfire,
without success. "The money title is just another way of keeping
score. It's not personal," Colbert said.
"This is built way out of proportion by the media," Irwin said.
"There is absolutely no animosity. Jim and I are friends. We
have been friends for a long time. I admire the way he has
played this year. It's been fantastic. The guy is a heck of a
player. When you win five tournaments, you show that last year
was no fluke. We get along fine."
No one really bought their stories. After all, these two come at
the game from opposite directions. Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open
winner who regularly contended in the major championships, would
like to see tougher conditions on the Senior tour if only to
sustain his interest. Colbert didn't have a glamorous PGA Tour
career, so he puts much more stock in what he has accomplished
on the Senior tour, where he is a star. Colbert, and many other
Senior players, defend the status quo and don't appreciate
someone like Irwin downgrading the tour.
Colbert came to the Dunes trailing Irwin by about $66,000. After
a nearly flawless opening 67, Irwin's putting touch vanished in
the blustery, second-round conditions and he shot 75. The next
day he shot himself out of contention with a fat 76, although he
rallied with a 70 on Sunday to tie for 10th. Colbert gamely
stayed on the leader board most of the week before falling with
a bogey-bogey finish on Saturday. On Sunday he again bogeyed the
17th and appeared to have lost his chance at passing Irwin.
Colbert hit his approach shot over the flag at the 18th, about
15 feet away, then asked his pal ESPN commentator Frank Beard
where he stood in the money race. "You have to make it," Beard
Colbert rolled the downhill putt straight in for a birdie,
dropped his putter on the green and strutted off. He had to wait
for the last few groups to finish, but Beard had been right. The
putt won the money title for Colbert, who finished with
$1,627,890 to Irwin's $1,615,769. Not bad, considering Colbert
had trailed Irwin by $312,000 six weeks earlier.
"Hale has always been better than me and stills plays better
than I do, but I'm getting closer," Colbert said afterward. "I
was trying to beat Hale not because it's Hale but because he's
the guy who was on top. What he said had nothing to do with me
personally. It was just about the guy nipping at his heels. It
looked funny in the papers, but he didn't mean anything by it.
It creates excitement; it's good for the game. I think the money
title is a worthy goal. I remember Arnold Palmer and Jack
Nicklaus playing the Cajun Classic years ago. It was the last
tournament of the year and had a $25,000 purse, but they played
in it for the money title. They thought it was important."
Irwin, who finished ahead of Colbert, waved off reporters after
his round and refused to comment.
How does this affect the voting for player of the year? In
addition to winning the money title, Colbert won five times.
Irwin won twice (but not since April), had seven seconds, the
best scoring average (69.47) and won $12,121 less than Colbert
despite playing in nine fewer tournaments. Five wins might give
Colbert the award, but Irwin's consistently good play makes him
the better player. "Certainly Hale is the new sheriff in town,
as Lee Trevino likes to say," says Bob Murphy, "and right now
Hale is riding the biggest horse."
The tour still has horses. Charles, Colbert, Murphy, Stockton
and some others have become stars as Seniors, but the tour was
originally built on superstars. In fact, it was practically
invented for Palmer. Then Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez,
Trevino and even Nicklaus, as an occasional visitor, helped take
it to a higher level. Trouble is, the superstar cookie jar is
about empty. Nicklaus won twice early this year but played only
seven times. Trevino was bothered by physical problems and
didn't get his first win until the week before the Senior Tour
Championship. Johnny Miller and Tom Watson, who will turn 50
within the next two seasons, aren't expected to play much Senior
It would help if Trevino could squeeze another year out of his
aching body. He is suddenly optimistic in the wake of his
unlikely victory in the Emerald Coast Classic in Milton, Fla.,
where Stockton finished bogey-bogey to create a five-man playoff
that Trevino won with a long putt. "I had a bad year," Trevino
says. "Even the win last week doesn't scratch the itch. I'm
Trevino says he came back too early from the neck surgery he
underwent in October 1994. During rehabilitation he built up the
muscles in his right shoulder, which improved his range of
motion, but when he swung through the ball, he suffered spasms
in his shoulder and rib cage. Doctors tested everything but
found nothing. The guys in the Senior tour fitness trailer
solved the problem. They determined that Trevino needed to build
up the left shoulder so he could finish his follow-through. He's
feeling better now, and instead of thinking about quitting, he's
thinking about winning. "I think next year will be very good if
I can take off 20 pounds," Trevino says. "If I don't, I will
struggle. If I do, I think I'll win. I'll go out on a limb--I
like to do that. If I lose the weight, I'll win three times and
over a million dollars. If I don't, I'm going to eat me some
tacos and drink me some Crystal Light and the hell with it."
Trevino, who will turn 57 in a few weeks, may be too old to
dominate the Senior tour the way he did six or seven years ago.
Conventional wisdom holds that when a player hits 55, he can
still play well but is probably not going to be a top-10
money-list guy anymore. "Everything comes to an end sooner or
later," Trevino says. "You're going to get to the point where
you don't win anymore. You have to be able to take that like a
man. No sense being bitter."
Unlike a certain battery-powered bunny, you can't keep going and
going and going....