Bill Lytle's yellowing white golf shirt--a five-dollar special
from the Chip Beck line at Wal-Mart--offered little resistance
to the chilly Pacific Coast air. The shirt, which Lytle wore
during the Monday qualifying round for the recent Ralphs Senior
Classic, was the same one he had worn the night before on a
cut-rate flight from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles (via
Indianapolis). The airline had lost his luggage, including his
clubs, so he had struggled all day with a borrowed set. Lytle
didn't want to borrow a shirt, though, and as a player at the
bottom of golf's food chain, he didn't want to pay pro-shop
prices for a new one.
Lytle, 53, may have looked bad and hit it worse, but he's as
tough as the weeds that grow around his mobile home in the
scruffy high desert of Hemet, Calif., and losing some luggage is
nothing. Three months ago, for example, he was completely broke,
yet he charged $8,000 on his credit cards to get into a dozen
events on the Nitro Senior Series, a satellite tour for over-50
players. With his career on the line for the umpteenth time in
the last two decades, Lytle won $19,000 to stay in the game.
On this Monday, loaner clubs and all, Lytle scrambled to a par
71 at Palos Verdes Golf Club in a grim attempt to grab one of
the three spots available in the 78-man field that would play
for $1 million a few days later. When he learned that his score
was one stroke too many, Lytle, desensitized by years of close
calls, remained eerily calm. Without recounting a bad shot or a
missed putt, he marched to the 1st tee for the eight-man playoff
for an alternate's spot. As dusk fell, he missed a three-footer
for par on the third extra hole and was eliminated, completing
another Monday on the Senior tour during which his total effort
resulted in no return.
"For most guys, even if they're good players, Mondays are just
too disappointing to keep trying," says Lytle. "If you keep at
it, there's probably something wrong with you."
That's how Lytle has come to describe himself. Since turning pro
in 1970, he has never won more than $55,000 in a year or had
much help with expenses from a sponsor. Although he earned a PGA
Tour card in 1980 and held it for a year, Lytle has mostly
nibbled along the fringes of the game, primarily on mini-tours
in the U.S. and Canada. A master of the short game, Lytle has
won small events and competed against players such as Fred
Couples, Tom Kite, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin while they were on
their way up, but unlike those men, Lytle, a wiry 5'10", lacks
the consistency from tee to green to play at a higher level. He
has worked as a club pro, a salesman, a mobile-home installer, a
computer consultant, a restaurant manager and a security guard,
but he always comes back to being a tournament player.
Lytle has failed at the Senior tour Q school three times, and
while he has played his way into six tournaments through Monday
qualifying, he has never done well, his best finish being a 47th
at the '95 Raley's Senior Gold Rush. Still, even though he lives
hand to mouth, has separated from his wife of 22 years, Carol,
and seldom sees his three children (Alicia, 17, Lauren, 15, and
Daniel, 13), quitting isn't an option. Not yet. "I've been good
enough to hang around, but that's been about it," he says.
"Sometimes I wish the Lord would either make me a whole lot
better or a whole lot worse. The problem is, even if I'm not top
of the line, golf is what I'm best at and what I love. I hate to
say it, but golf is my life."
Whether he knows it or not, Lytle represents a subculture of
aging men who feel compelled to pit diminishing hopes and skills
against the cruel reality of the Senior tour's Monday
qualifying, which, when it comes to risk versus reward, might be
the worst bet in sports. On Mondays deprivation and
disappointment are the norm. That's the day Sisyphus would have
played if Zeus had been a golfer.
The Senior tour's 78-man fields leave next to no room for
outsiders. The first 31 spots go to the top money winners from
the previous year. The next 31 go to those whose career earnings
(combined money from the regular and Senior tours) are among the
top 70 alltime. Eight berths go to top finishers in the previous
year's qualifying school, and four more to sponsors' choices.
That leaves four places for Monday qualifiers.
Nevertheless, the Senior tour is irresistible to many men
reaching that vulnerable age when Walter Mitty meets The Last
Roundup. "Unless you've sat on that rocket ship, you can't
understand," says Chuck Montalbano, the former head pro at
Riviera in L.A., who's the second-leading money winner on the
'97 Senior Series, with $74,726. "Sure it's a crapshoot on
Monday. Part of me hates it, which is why I'm playing the second
tour, but the chance to be in contention against an Irwin or a
Trevino makes you try it again."
Between 100 and 150 players show up every Monday, even though
the vast majority have no chance to shoot a low enough score to
win a place in the tournament. At Palos Verdes, 63-year-old Ben
Smith, struggling to stay among the top 70 career money earners
after suffering heart problems earlier in the year, led the
field with a 67.
Even the best players miss more often than not. This year Walter
Hall, a tall, limber North Carolinian who turned 50 in June, has
been phenomenal, qualifying for seven tournaments in 11 tries.
Hall has converted his opportunities into more than $160,000 in
winnings. (He leads the Senior Series with $80,889.) That hasn't
put him among the top 31 on the money list (he's 71st) but will
allow him to advance into the final stage of the Senior Q
school, Dec. 2-5 at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Excellent Mondays have also been one of the keys to success for
Bob Duval, a former club pro and the father of David Duval.
Duval has gotten into several tournaments by virtue of finishing
15th at last year's Q school but has also played his way into
five events. Still, Duval has felt the pain. In nine
unsuccessful Monday tries this year, he has never shot higher
than par. One of those came at Palos Verdes, where Duval, like
Lytle, shot 71 to miss by one. The sting was all the sharper
because going into Ralphs Senior Classic, the last regular event
of '97, Duval was 28th on the money list with $482,601 and
risked losing his spot in last week's lucrative Senior Tour
Championship and his automatic exemption for next year. "Mondays
will break your heart," says Duval. "I just hope I've played in
my last one." (For one year, anyway, he has. Duval ended up 31st
on the money list after L.A.)
Monday qualifying on the Senior tour is far more difficult than
the qualifiers that were held on the regular Tour until it
switched to the current, all-exempt setup in 1983. Before then
there were sometimes as many as 70 spots available for
qualifiers, and once a player made the field, all he had to do
was make the 36-hole cut to get into the next event on the
schedule. Even on today's regular Tour, four-spotters (the four
Monday qualifiers) can gain an exemption into the next
tournament by finishing in the top 10.
The Senior guillotine is much sharper. Alternates sometimes get
in, but rarely do more than two make it. Worse, nothing short of
a victory will get a Senior rabbit out of the next Monday
qualifier, and only six four-spotters in the history of the tour
have made it to the winner's circle--most recently, Dana Quigley
at the Northville Long Island Classic in August. Conversely,
when Monday man Bob Betley went eight extra holes before losing
to Orville Moody in Park City, Utah, in 1992, it meant only that
he had that much less time to get to the qualifier the next day
in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Historically, Monday qualifiers don't do well in the tournament
proper. One hundred and twenty-seven have played in 29 events
this year. They have produced only nine top-10 finishes.
"Realistically, you play on Mondays to maybe get lucky, but more
than anything to stay sharp so you can make it through the Q
school," says Steve Robbins, a frequent entrant in Monday
qualifiers. "You're going against all odds. Even when you get
in, the exempt guys have an edge in skill, experience and
Still, whatever the odds or the hardship, the fields on Monday
are filled to the brim. Some entrants think they can be the next
Robert Landers, the Texas farmer turned pro, and live the
impossible dream. Others view Mondays as a shortcut, a quick
hit, the roll of the dice that could produce the big score. Any
pro can enter. All it takes is the $200 entry fee.
"People think the Senior tour is a gold mine, and anybody who
can play a little bit can hook into it," says Joe Terry, a PGA
Tour official who runs many Monday qualifiers. "That's a big
misconception. We've had some no-names do well, but check their
records and you'll find they've been beating people all their
lives. What most people who try to qualify find out very quickly
is that they aren't prepared for the courses, the competition or
Every qualifier has players who don't know the rules, carry a
ball retriever and fail to break 100. Veteran qualifier Bill
Viele remembers a guy who shot 64 on the front nine, during
which he hit his playing partners three times with shanked
shots. At qualifying for the Transamerica in Napa, Calif., last
month, the field was treated to a vision in orange named Jim
Scarborough, a 56-year-old retired painting contractor from San
Diego. Scarborough had an orange bag, orange shafts in his clubs
and wore an orange rain suit. The medley was spoiled only by a
blue hat with the inscription glenn's rental equipment. Terry
took one look and dubbed him NASCAR. Scarborough explained that
his affection for orange started 27 years ago when he was
competing in "professional archery" and his straightest-flying
arrows had orange feathers. Headed for triple figures,
Scarborough picked up after the 14th hole.
On the other hand, many qualifiers are skilled players who have
either been away from competition or never had the opportunity
to make their games tournament-tough. It's no accident that
there are more minorities at Senior tour qualifiers than at
regular Tour qualifiers. At Palos Verdes, 63-year-old Bill
Wright, whose victory in the 1959 U.S. Publinx made him the
first African-American to win a national championship, tried to
qualify, as did Alton Duhon, the '82 U.S. Senior Amateur
champion, who played the Senior tour with modest success in the
1980s. Commenting on the dozen or so black players at Palos
Verdes, the 73-year-old Duhon says, "This is a shot for guys who
never had the sponsors or the opportunity, just to see what they
can do. It's a long shot, but at least it's a shot."
Almost all the successful Monday qualifiers come from a core of
about 40 players who are trying to break onto the Senior tour.
Some are polished former Tour winners--guys like Jerry Heard,
Dick Lotz, Rik Massengale and Cesar Sanudo--who didn't make
enough to be among the top 70 alltime. Others, like Duval and
Hall, had lower profiles but now possess the games and the
financial resources through sponsors and endorsements to make it
to the top.
For players with less lofty goals, the Nitro Senior Series
provides an alternative that's almost sinfully comfortable
compared to the hair shirt that is Monday qualifying. This year,
the Series evolved into a tour of 20 events with fields of 144
players and purses of $105,000. The tour gives unsuccessful
Monday qualifiers a place to play the rest of the week. Best of
all, the tournaments are held on Thursday through Saturday,
which provides a travel day for anyone who wants to get to the
next Monday qualifier. If the tour remains financially viable,
it could become the senior version of the Nike tour.
That's not good enough for a player like Lytle. When he got home
from Palos Verdes, he found his home flooded by a leaky washing
machine that probably had been spraying water for the 2 1/2
months he had been gone. "Everything was rusty," Lytle says.
"Just having to clean up that mess, thinking about how much I
missed my kids and wanting to save my marriage, I started
thinking that I can do better than this. For too many years I
was too satisfied with winning mini-tour events and just getting
by financially. All I've known is pressure, to the point where
it's not pressure anymore. I'm not scared. I know I'm good
enough. Why not aim for the top? I'm 53. I have to do something
With this new perspective, Lytle paid $2,000 to enter last
week's first stage of the Senior Q school in Escondido, Calif.
He advanced to Ponte Vedra Beach, and if he finishes among the
top eight there, he'll have many thoughts. The first one will
be, Goodbye, Mondays.