It is surely no coincidence that Hale Irwin and the major
championships on the Senior tour have the same problem. Both
have lost their focus. Last week at the PGA Seniors
Championship, Irwin's attempt to match Walter Hagen as the only
man to win the same major in four consecutive years never got
off the 1st tee. Irwin finished 11th at five-under-par 283, nine
shots behind the surprise winner, Senior tour rookie Allen Doyle.
The larger issue, however, is the state of the Senior major, a
term that this year is an oxymoron. The Tradition, interrupted
twice by snow in Scottsdale, Ariz., was declared over after 36
holes. Even winner Graham Marsh felt sheepish. Last week the PGA
Seniors once again went largely ignored by the residents of
South Florida. After years of trying, without success, to lure a
gallery, PGA chief executive officer Jim Awtrey finally said
that he wants to take the tournament on the road, like the PGA
and all of the USGA's national championships. In other words,
like a real major.
Doyle's lightning bolt of a final-round 64 was four strokes
lower than anyone else's score on Sunday and three shots better
than any previous champion's closing round. Though third-round
coleader Vicente Fernandez led by three early on the back nine,
Doyle overtook him by playing the 10 holes from numbers 7
through 16 in eight under. He had an eagle, seven birdies, a par
and a bogey.
Doyle, though, provided the tournament with all the pizzazz one
might expect from the operator of a driving range in LaGrange,
Ga. At the beginning of the week the memory of the elegant Hagen
had been revived by Irwin's chase. At the end of the week,
Doyle, when informed at the outset of his press conference that
champagne was on the way, said, "I won't have the champagne.
I'll have a beer if somebody brings me one, sure will."
Actually Doyle is a transplanted good ol' boy. He grew up
playing hockey and caddying in Sharon, Mass. He melded the two
sports with his short backswing and sweeping follow-through, his
action resembling the slap shot he used in making the Norwich
(Vt.) University Sports Hall of Fame. Asked why Doyle's swing
works so well, NBC commentator and teaching pro Mark Rolfing
said, "It repeats. Every one is the same."
Between his swing and his unassuming manner, Doyle doesn't
exactly intimidate everyone on the range. "People have always
dismissed me as a guy who probably wasn't that good," he says.
Everywhere he has gone, though, he has won--he's a two-time
All-Army champ, a six-time Georgia State Open winner and a
two-time Walker Cupper. Doyle didn't turn pro until 1995, when
at 46, in an attempt to prepare himself for the Senior tour, he
walked onto the Nike tour and won three events. He has won twice
this season and leads the Senior tour in earnings with $666,724.
Anyone who can cut a three-iron into the wind and over the water
and leave it a foot from the cup, as Doyle did on the 428-yard
16th for his final birdie, is hardly a fluke. But the stretch
duel between Doyle and Fernandez fell as flat as the swing that
won it. The best that can be said about Fernandez is that the
Argentinean has made a habit of coming close. He has finished
second or third in four of the last six Senior majors. There's
also the hairy truth about his health. Fernandez, 53, has fully
recovered from the neck injury he suffered in December while
shampooing (and we thought conditioning was a problem on the
Senior tour). "I went like this a bit quick," he says, raising
his hands to his hair, "and I felt a cramp in my back." (Next
week: Bath Gel and How It Can Add Strokes to Your Score.)
Irwin, as was the case with most of the other big names on the
tour, never quite got into contention. The man who won 16
tournaments during the past two seasons has one top 10 finish in
six starts in 1999. The fall from Hale and hearty to Hale and
hardly has come on the greens. In the two previous seasons Irwin
had led the tour in putting. He returned to Palm Beach Gardens
ranked 56th in '99, his average a stunning 1.98 putts per round
higher than it was a year ago. "That just shocked me," he says.
"Your average score of 69 becomes a 71. The difference at the
end of the week is six or eight strokes. That's not even in the
Even if Irwin had challenged Hagen's record, would anyone have
noticed? The PGA is the oldest--by more than 40 years--and
arguably the most prestigious Senior event, but last week it
drew an estimated total attendance of 25,000, which is little
more than what some Tour stops get on pro-am day. Lee Trevino
guessed that his threesome for the first two rounds, which
included Arnold Palmer and 1999's overnight sensation, Bruce
Fleisher, had a gallery of about 300 people. Palmer can draw 300
fans when he pulls into a gas station. Another threesome
featured the winners of five of the last six PGA Seniors: Irwin,
Raymond Floyd and Tom Wargo. On the 14th hole on Thursday, they
had about 40 fans watching.
"This event has been here so long [the last 17 years], it has
become something people are used to seeing," says Awtrey. "This
tournament shouldn't be just another tournament." Awtrey and the
players speak with awe of this year's U.S. Senior Open at the Des
Moines Golf and Country Club, which has been sold out for more
than a year. "There's nothing like a live audience," says Jim
Awtrey and the Senior tour agree that the PGA Seniors should
move into late spring to space out the majors. That would free
up the third week in April for the Tradition, thus ending the
possibility of another snow-out. Also, when the tour's board
holds its quarterly meeting in Atlanta next month, a 54-hole
minimum for majors is expected to be approved. The reason this
year's Tradition didn't extend into Monday is that tour bylaws
prohibit a third round from starting after the weekend. "A
mistake," says board member Dave Stockton, who was among a
half-dozen players to discuss the change during an informal
meeting last week with commissioner Tim Finchem.
For now, the PGA Seniors will have to content itself with
performances such as the one Doyle gave on Sunday. But even he
saw room for improvement. In February, after his first Senior
tour win, at the ACE Group Classic across the state in Naples, a
headline made reference to his mixed lineage in golf and hockey.
Doyle joked then that he should have worn a helmet coming down
the 18th fairway. "I blew it again today," he said on Sunday. "I
should have had a helmet in my bag and put it on coming down 18.
Then I'd really be known for something."
That would be some hat trick.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN On a roll Doyle's chip-in for eagle at 10 was part of Sunday's eight-under-par run.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Late fade Fernandez has wound up second or third in four of the last six Senior majors.
Allen Doyle joined a distinguished list of winners of the PGA
Seniors, which at 60 is by far the oldest of the Senior majors,
but he's still seven victories shy of the record for most Senior
TRADITION PGA PLAYERS OPEN TOTAL
Jack Nicklaus 4 1 1 2 8
Gary Player - 3 1 2 6
Sam Snead - 6 - - 6
Arnold Palmer - 2 2 1 5
Miller Barber - 1 1 3 5
Hale Irwin - 3 - 1 4
Lee Trevino 1 2 - 1 4