Dave Stockton has gone from the ocean to the top of the mountain. The guy we saw being dunked in the Atlantic off South Carolina's Kiawah Island as captain of America's victorious 1991 Ryder Cup team is still celebrating, but for another reason. Or a million reasons. As in one for every dollar he has won on the Senior PGA Tour in 1993.
On Sunday, Stockton birdied the last three holes for a final-round eight-under-par 64 to win his fifth tournament of the year, the Transamerica Senior Championship at Silverado Country Club in California's Napa Valley. His $90,000 paycheck boosted his earnings for the year to $1,041,634, tops on the Senior PGA Tour money list. With four tournaments left to play, Stockton should break the annual-earnings record of $1,190,518, set by Lee Trevino in 1990.
"His goal for the year had been $900,000," says his wife, Cathy. "He's had to revise it."
Stockton, who had 11 victories during 27 years on the PGA Tour, turned 50 in November 1991 and began playing the Senior tour in earnest. Last year he finished seventh on the money list, with one victory and 14 Top 10 finishes, and was selected Senior Tour Rookie of the Year.
Although on the PGA Tour he never finished higher than sixth on the money list, Stockton always had two things going for him: He could putt, and he could talk. "I knew I could out-putt everybody," he says. He still can. Stockton ranks first in the Senior tour putting category, as he did last year. He has also put his years of public-speaking classes in high school and at USC to good use. A Stockton interview has always been likely to last longer than one of his rounds.
"I didn't make the commitment when I was on the regular tour," he says, "even though I won the PGA Championship twice. I was always doing corporate outings instead of playing tournaments. I was never committed to Dave Stockton's golf game. I was committed to corporate America's golf game." Indeed, he used to average some 90 days of corporate outings a year.
Once an ordinary player from tee to green—after getting a golf scholarship to USC, he joined the coach for a friendly round and shot a 94—Stockton now strikes the ball extremely well. "I teed off with Arnold Palmer last year," he says, "and Arnie asked me, 'What have you changed?' I had started releasing my wrists and hitting draws." Not to mention hitting the jackpot.
A year ago Stockton led by two shots entering the final round at Silverado. "I shoot a four-under 68 and eagle the last hole, only to lose by a shot because Bob Charles shoots 63. This year I was going to shoot as low as I could."
On Sunday, Stockton stood by the 18th green and waited, having finished ahead of three groups with a 13-under-par 54-hole total of 203. As he ate a banana, drank water and signed autographs, Stockton waited to see if Trevino, aiming for a third straight tournament victory, would eagle the shortish par-5 18th to win or would birdie to tie and force a playoff. After Trevino three-putted for a par, it was left to Simon Hobday to sink a 25-foot eagle putt to force a playoff. Hobday settled for a birdie, which tied him with Trevino for second place and left Stockton alone at the top.
Stockton may get to see his own two sons on the PGA Tour. Dave Jr., 25, has won twice on the Nike Tour, and Ron, 23, plays for the University of Redlands. As for his own days on the PGA Tour, Stockton says, "I don't regret what I did when I was on the regular tour. I saw my family grow, and that was great. I used to take the time off to go hunting and fishing and skiing with my family.
"Now I don't need to take any time off. This isn't work; it's fun. I'm having a great time. Of course, I may be driving some of the other guys nuts."
The Senior tour's money leader can smack a putt with the best of them.