This is an article from the Sept. 17, 2001 issue
Many people think a lack of star power hurts the Senior tour, but
the lack of star power is actually an asset. There's a perception
that if Tiger Woods isn't in the field at a PGA Tour event, the
tournament is second-rate. No one thinks that of a Senior tour
event if Hale Irwin doesn't play.
Although Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer still draw good-sized
galleries, less glamorous players, like Bruce Fleisher, Tom Kite,
Gil Morgan and Larry Nelson, are the strength of the Senior tour,
and more of them are on the way. Rookies Bruce Lietzke and Bobby
Wadkins have won this season. Don Pooley debuted two weeks ago.
Fuzzy Zoeller turns 50 on Nov. 11, Tom Purtzer on Dec. 5. Next
year Ben Crenshaw, Gary Koch and Wayne Levi become eligible,
followed by Andy Bean, Jay Haas, Jerry Pate, Craig Stadler and
D.A. Weibring in 2003.
No one is likely to dominate in this competitive mix the way
Irwin did from 1995 to 2000, when he won a Senior-tour-record 29
times, but if one player is likely to have more success than the
others, he would be Mark McCumber, who'll make his Senior debut
at this week's Vantage Championship at Tanglewood Park in
Clemmons, N.C. McCumber was playing the best golf of his career
in the mid-'90s when he was sidelined by injuries. Now that he's
healthy, he could sneak up on the Seniors like a stealth bomber.
"I understand the sports world is fickle," says McCumber, who has
been working as a course designer as well as a golf commentator
for Fox. "The fans forget about you three weeks later. Mark
O'Meara was player of the year three years ago. Does his name
ever come up now? It's been fun to be a dad, a husband and a
course designer, but I'm looking forward to testing myself
McCumber won 10 times on Tour, including the 1994 Tour
Championship. His ailments began in '96, when he finished second
in the Honda Classic and the British Open despite being unable to
lift clubs out of his bag with his right arm because of a
dislocated rotator cuff in his shoulder. He underwent surgery
that August, two days after the PGA, passing up the Tour
Championship so he'd be fully recovered the following spring--he
thought. "Little did I know the next four years would be a
fiasco," he says.
In January 1997 McCumber ruptured a disk in his neck during
rehab. Then he learned he had a virus in his spinal cord. "For
eight months every step I took sent an electrical shock up and
down my spine," McCumber says. "Walking across a room exhausted
me. I was convinced I would never play golf again. I wasn't sure
I'd walk again."
His condition slowly improved, to the point where he could swing
a club, but he played in only 11 tournaments over the next three
years. When recurring neck pain forced him to withdraw from the
Buick Open last month, he went back to his doctor. The good news:
His spinal cord was back to normal. The bad news: He had ruptured
the same disk and needed a three-week rest.
Today, except for numbness in his left hand and sensitivity in
his legs, both hangovers from the virus, McCumber feels fine. "I
hope I can elevate my game," he says. "It's a tough league. With
all these good players, it won't be easy for a guy to reel off
six or eight victories anymore. Winning three or four times will
be a big deal. I want to be a contending player, but I'm not sure
what my abilities are."
Beginning this week, we will find out.
NCAA Versus USGA
Two Rulers, Two Rules
With great fanfare, the USGA announced on July 2 that in 2002
golfers will be able to enter professional qualifying tournaments
(Q school) without losing their amateur status. Glossed over was
the fact that should a college player take advantage of this
generous-sounding opportunity to test the pro waters, he would be
in violation of NCAA rules. "Our views on Q school haven't
changed since 1990," says NCAA spokesperson Jane Jankowski. "If a
student-athlete attempts to professionalize, he or she will lose
his or her eligibility."
Confused? Not as much as the nation's 11,000 college golfers and
their coaches. "I wasn't expecting the NCAA to remain status
quo," says Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler. "Our kids know the
rules and will have to abide by them. I'm more worried about the
kids we're trying to recruit. All this does is add to the
confusion about what we can and cannot tell high school kids."
USGA executive director David Fay says he discussed his
organization's changes with the NCAA and anticipated that the
NCAA also would revise its rules. Jankowski says Fay should not
have assumed any such thing. "Just because the USGA made a change
doesn't mean that the NCAA will too," she says. "The NCAA's
membership committee has no proposals in the pipeline that will
be specific to the USGA."
Because there are now two sets of guidelines, Fay says his
"greatest concern is that the athlete may be trapped in the
NCAA." With more golfers leaving college early, Fay says the NCAA
should be realistic and "seriously consider rewriting its amateur
In April 2002 the NCAA may vote on a revision affirming the
eligibility of a golfer who played professionally before college,
provided that golfer abides by NCAA rules while a
student-athlete. Under USGA rules, such a golfer loses his
The end result could be that a future U.S. Amateur champion might
be ineligible to play in the NCAAs, while an NCAA champ might be
ineligible for the U.S. Amateur. Says Linda Vollstedt, who
recently retired after 21 years as women's coach at Arizona
State, "This needs to be resolved before it gets out of hand."
Sounds as if it already has. --Yi-Wyn Yen
Europe will win the Ryder Cup. All of the elements for success
in sports--motivation (payback for Brookline), pressure on the
other guys (the U.S. is a 1 1/2-to-1 favorite), home course
advantage (Europe is 2-1 at the Belfry), a chance to overcome
adversity (Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood are nursing injuries)
and a complacent opponent (Do some of the top American players
care?)--are lined up in the Europeans' favor.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only golfers under 22 to win an LPGA event
this year. Delasin won the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic at age 20,
Gloria the Williams Championship at 21 and Grace the Office Depot
Should the PGA Tour make 18 a minimum age for membership?
--Based on 3,542 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Phil Mickelson's wife, Amy, is expecting the
couple's second child in mid-October. Phil says that if Amy
delivers early, he might not play in the Ryder Cup. Should Phil
play or stay with Amy if the baby arrives ahead of schedule?
Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
Synonyms for: Senior tour pro
Ball hawker, creaker, fisherman, geezer, gramps, grumpy old man,
O.F., Q-tip, raisin, shuffler, Willard
Four rookies have won this year, making the class of 2001 the
Tour's winningest since 1987. Here are the contenders for rookie
of the year.
STARTS TOP FINISH $ RANK
Retief Goosen 10 1 40th
Charles Howell 16 2 44th
Jose Coceres 14 1 56th
David Gossett 9 1 64th
Garrett Willis 27 1 66th
Paul Gow 24 2 73rd
Geoff Ogilvy 19 T2 83rd
M. Jimenez 15 T3 89th
P. Ulrik-Johansson 23 T6 110th