The torch has been passed. The past has been torched. Ladies and
gentlemen, here's everything you need to know about the
season-ending Energizer Senior Tour Championship and, for that
matter, the 1997 Senior tour: Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan.
As dynamic duos go, they're no Batman and Robin, Palmer and
Nicklaus or, definitely, Rowan and Martin. So what? Simply check
out last week's scoreboard at the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach,
S.C., then total up the victories on this year's Senior tour:
Irwin, nine. Morgan, six. Others, present.
The Tour Championship was less of a grand finale than an instant
replay: Irwin and Morgan, Morgan and Irwin, crimson and clover,
over and over. You didn't have to know what happened last week.
If you possessed the cunning of, say, Ace Ventura, you could
guess. "When I got here Monday," said cherubic Bob Murphy, "the
first reporter I talked to says, 'Well, is there anybody else in
this golf tournament except Gil Morgan and Hale Irwin?' I said,
'Gee, I thought 31 guys were invited.'"
They were, but in retrospect, why? Sure, there were some
interesting cameo appearances. Ol' Murph made one, finally
holing putts with some regularity and shooting 66 in the opening
round after getting a new prescription for his glasses. Bob
Duval, whose son, David, so enjoyed breaking into the win column
late on the PGA Tour last month that he won three times in a
row, tried to make it four straight Duvals but faded on the
weekend. There was also Hubert Green, with a swing that would've
looked familiar if we hadn't blinked and missed it, contending
for a while.
November 17, 1997
They were just opening acts, though. The main attractions were
Irwin, trying to win for the 10th time this year and break the
tour record he shares with Peter Thomson, and Dr. Gil, the
soft-spoken optometrist who has never practiced, trying to join
Irwin and Tiger Woods as the only players to earn more than $2
million in a year. How could the tournament not turn into a
judgment-day showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 among the Seniors?
Before the suspense kills you, Morgan won this duel by two
strokes, holding a comfortable advantage that swelled to as many
as five shots during the final round. The next best finisher,
Isao Aoki, closed with 67 and still stood seven strokes behind
Morgan and Irwin played in the same event 19 times this year,
and Morgan finished higher in 12 of them. The two players came
in one-two on four occasions. Although he missed his chance to
set the record for victories, Irwin had few regrets. "It's been
a wonderful year," he said. "I'm a little disappointed that the
10 victories didn't come, but, gosh, you can't get greedy. I'm
relieved the season's over. Now I can put an absolutely
fantastic year in the books and enjoy it. I played very well
this week. Shoot, I'd take my 14 under here every year and
probably win--except when Gil shoots 16 under. I've done that to
some other players this year, so I understand."
Irwin won $2,343,364 this season, the most money earned on a
single tour in history, while Morgan, with the $328,000 he made
last week, ended up with $2,160,562. They each banked more than
Woods, but that's comparing apples and swooshes. "Hale had as
good a year as anybody's ever had in golf," says Andy North, the
ESPN commentator who worked many of Irwin's tournaments this
season. "He was Byron Nelson-like in the way he played. A lot of
pros couldn't go out and win nine tournaments on the AJGA
[American Junior Golf Association] circuit." Adds David Feherty,
North's counterpart at CBS, "Isn't there a law against robbing
old people in this country?"
Irwin led the Senior tour in greens hit in regulation and in
putting--a deadly combination. The story was about the same for
Morgan, who has always been, like Irwin, a terrific ball-striker
but was never particularly effective on the greens. That changed
this year. Morgan ranked second in greens in regulation and in
putting. "I truly believe that Gil is a better player now than
he used to be," Irwin says. "His game has come together. He's
swinging the club better, and this week he putted better than
Almost as striking as Irwin's and Morgan's domination this
season was the disappearance of the players they supplanted.
Whatever happened to Jim Colbert, Raymond Floyd, Murphy, Jack
Nicklaus, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino and even John Bland? Those
seven combined for 34 victories in the last two years. In 1997
they accounted for two. With this group of stars missing in
action, there was almost no competition for Irwin and Morgan.
"You take us out of the picture, and everything changes," Murphy
Each player had his own troubles. Colbert missed most of the
summer because of prostate cancer surgery. Floyd, who has played
a lot of golf since turning 50 in 1992, might have lost
interest. Nicklaus made only six starts on the tour, and Trevino
failed to win for the first time as a Senior.
The rise of Irwin and Morgan as the new Senior sultans occurs at
a time when the tour's television ratings are down. Part of the
slide might be due to Woods's drawing viewers to the regular
Tour--its ratings were up substantially when he played--but
there could be more to it than that. "We still need guys like
[Billy] Casper, [Arnold] Palmer, Chi Chi [Rodriguez] and
Trevino," says tour veteran Jimmy Powell. "We need all of those
guys to play to bring nostalgia into our game. That's the reason
the Senior tour was created, not to see who's the best Senior
Since Nicklaus isn't likely to increase his playing schedule, a
resurgence by Trevino, who until this year had been a focus of
attention ever since he joined the tour in 1989, might be
critical. A comeback seemed more likely when Trevino left the
Dunes than when he arrived. He didn't keep score in last
Wednesday's pro-am but admitted that he wouldn't have broken 80
if he had. "I can't wait for this week to be over," Trevino
said, shaking his head. "It's been a terrible year. I've played
Trevino leads the Senior tour's alltime victory list with 27 but
was rarely in contention this year. His body breaks down as
regularly as a '62 Corvair, and the question is whether or not
he can still be a factor at his age. Only Powell and Bob Charles
have won more than once after they turned 58, which Trevino will
do in a few weeks. "Basically, I think Trevino can still do
anything he wants to do," says Irwin. "He just needs that
mind-set. There are some things he may not physically be able to
do anymore, but we're all in that boat. If he lost a little
weight around the beam, it might help."
Says Murphy, "It's going to take a commitment on Lee's part.
He's played a lot of golf this year, but by his own admission he
hasn't practiced as hard. I think he's going to go home this
Christmas and say, 'How could I go out there all year and not
win?' That's going to rekindle his passion. Only when he decides
he wants to play well again will he win. And he will."
Trevino says he made a mistake by playing hurt early in the
year, after pulling a muscle in his right shoulder. "The only
reason I kept battling was, if you finish in the top 24 on the
money list, you only have to play in one pro-am, on Thursday,"
he says. "If you're outside the top 24, you have to play pro-ams
on Wednesday and Thursday. When the time comes that I can't stay
in the top 24, I'll quit playing. That extra day is big for me.
I have two little kids at home, and I'm not going to leave my
family. I'll retire first."
Trevino has a daughter, Olivia, 8, and a son, Daniel, 5, with
his second wife, Claudia. He also has four children from his
first marriage, but Trevino wasn't around to see them grow up,
and they're now in their 20s and 30s. He says he won't make that
mistake again. "I never spent much time with my other children,"
he says, "and if I had it to do over, that's the one thing I
would change. You can't make it up, no way. I know that now. I
have probably spent more time already with my little boy than I
spent with my four other kids put together. We take naps
together, go to karate class, to soccer and football practice,
we fish. He's my pal."
Trevino demonstrated his devotion to his family last month in
Hawaii. Five minutes before he was supposed to tee off in the
Thursday pro-am of the Kaanapali Classic, he discovered that
Sunday's finishing time had been pushed back two hours, to 4
p.m., which meant that he might miss a flight that would get him
home in time for Daniel's birthday on Monday. Trevino withdrew
from the tournament. "I had promised that I'd go to school with
Daniel with cupcakes," Trevino says matter-of-factly.
Yet on Sunday as he left Myrtle Beach, Trevino was enthused
about playing golf next year. During a practice session after
Wednesday's disastrous pro-am round, he rediscovered an old
preswing move, a two-step shuffle that helps him position the
ball in the center of his stance. Suddenly be began to hit the
ball solidly again and opened with a 69. He eventually tied for
fourth, eight shots behind Morgan.
So fragile is Trevino's game that one good tournament gets him
talking about taking off 20 pounds over the winter (an annual,
and as yet unrealized, goal) and getting the best of Irwin. "He
[Irwin] might get tired next year because he has to defend a lot
of titles," Trevino says. "All we have to do is sneak around and
not play the tournaments he plays, and we'll all have a hell of
a year." Trevino bristles at suggestions that a comeback at 58
might be impossible. "When I come back the strongest is when
everybody is writing me off," he says. "I drive myself because I
want to show everybody I'm not dead yet. I won't be surprised if
I come back pretty damn strong next year." He chews on that for
a second, waves his index finger and adds, "Don't be surprised
if '98 isn't the best year I've ever had on the Senior tour."
That would be quite an accomplishment, but would it be as
difficult as Irwin's or Morgan's topping what they achieved this
season? "I'm not even going to think about that," Irwin says. "I
haven't had time to enjoy this year, and I really want to. This
is a year that may never come again."