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Built To Last The Senior tour's first unsung star, Don January, now 68, soldiers on

Feb. 16, 1998
Feb. 16, 1998

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Feb. 16, 1998

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Built To Last The Senior tour's first unsung star, Don January, now 68, soldiers on

At the Casey Martin trial in Oregon last week, Richard Ferris,
the chairman of the PGA Tour's policy board, set off a bombshell
in the ranks of the old guard when he tried to explain why carts
are allowed on the Senior tour. "The Senior tour is not
competition at its highest level," he said. "The Senior tour is
nostalgia."

This is an article from the Feb. 16, 1998 issue

It didn't take long for Arnold Palmer, leading the charge, to
respond. "I don't think there's anything nostalgic about it,"
Arnie said. "It's a tour, just like any other tour. It's very
competitive."

The simple truth is, the Senior tour is about both nostalgia and
competition. One of the attractions of a senior golf tournament
is that it provides galleries with what is often a dramatic
finish on Sunday afternoon--the 10-hole sudden-death playoff
between David Graham and Dave Stockton two weeks ago, for
instance--and an encore, an opportunity to cheer yesterday's
heroes. See Arnie and remember Cherry Hills, Jack and all those
green jackets, Lee and his rubber snake at Merion.

Competing at the LG Championship in Naples, Fla., last week was
an aging warrior who evoked a different sort of nostalgia, one
for the early days of the Senior tour almost two decades ago.
Don January, the 1967 PGA champion, was the Hale Irwin of his
day, an uncharismatic player dominating the over-the-hill gang.
January is the answer to the trivia question, Who won the first
official Senior tour event, the Atlantic City International in
1980? During the first five years of the tour January always
finished either first or second on the money list, and his 22
Senior victories put him in a tie for fourth on the alltime list.

January is one of just three active players--Charlie Sifford and
Palmer are the others--to have been born in the Roaring
Twenties. But whereas Arnie's appearances on the tour are
largely ceremonial these days, January is still a force,
especially among the MasterCard Champions, the players 60 and
over. He has won 35 of the SuperSenior events, those 36-hole
tournaments within the regular tournament, nearly twice as many
victories as any other active player.

Last Friday and Saturday at Naples, January put together
even-par rounds of 72 that had him a stroke ahead of Irwin and
Dave Stockton, four better than Graham, who had won the week
before, and 15 ahead of Palmer. On Sunday, January slipped to a
78, but even so, he finished in the middle of the field.

Superficially, at least, he resembled the same old January as he
strolled slowly down the fairways, his face wrinkled by the sun
from a lifetime of golf, looking not unlike a gunslinger from an
old Western. Alas, he is no longer one-iron thin.

"I was always skinny and smoked," he says. "Smoking always
blunted my appetite. I could drink and smoke as much as I wanted
because I always stayed the same weight. Then they made me stop
smoking and drinking, and I gained 50 pounds the first three
months. My wife told me that my grandkids are going to wonder
why I have the nickname Slim. That's what they call me back home
in Dallas."

January does not intend to go on forever, and in fact once quit
the regular Tour. In 1972 he tossed his clubs into a closet and
embarked on a career in golf course construction. "I had no
intention of coming back," he says. "Then came the recession of
'74. Nobody had any work, and I had kids to put through college,
so the next year I returned. I laugh at the things I said when I
was a young man about how long I was going to play. I was in a
bar with someone I used to travel with, and at another table was
a guy who'd been on the Tour 14 or 15 years. I said, 'That's
never going to happen to me. I'll be out here nine years tops
and then I'm gone.' Hell, that was 40 years ago."

As he left the scorer's tent after his second round last week, a
group of youngsters asked him for his autograph. Afterward, he
laughed. "They didn't know who the hell I was," he said. "Maybe
their fathers do. I'm just a damned old pro from Dallas, Texas,
who was lucky enough to have a swing that lasted for a while.
That's what I am."

That's what Senior golf is.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [Don January golfing]
"I laugh at the things I said when I was a young man about how
long I was going to play."