In the pitch black at 4 a.m. on Sunday, Al Heath's work crews were
knee-deep in the bunkers, pumping out the water even as more rain
came pouring in. "It's like trying to spoon out the Titanic,"
said Heath, the course superintendent at PGA National Golf Club,
in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
So much aggravation--and for what? Play was suspended seven times
last week by the torrential South Florida storms. The players
continued to complain, as they normally do. The fans stayed away
in even greater numbers than usual. The 61st PGA Seniors
Championship was a doomed tournament, which is another way of
saying that it's headed for New Jersey.
When the PGA Seniors is held next May at Ridgewood Golf Club in
Paramus, N.J.--in front of crowds at least 10 times larger than
those that sloshed through the muck at PGA National last week--it
will mark, with great finality, the end of the tournament's
exclusive engagement in Florida, which dates back to 1940. This
being one of the Senior tour's four majors and the only event in
Senior golf with more years of experience than the golfers', it
is a change worth noting. Apparently someone up there wasn't very
happy about the exodus, because more than nine inches of rain
saturated the course from Thursday to Sunday, reducing the
championship to 54 holes and extending play through Monday.
"This tournament in all likelihood will never be back here," says
PGA of America CEO Jim Awtrey, who is considering future venues
such as Merion (Philadelphia), Cherry Hills (Denver), Oak Tree
(Edmond, Okla.) and Kiawah Island (South Carolina), as the PGA
Seniors looks for an audience worthy of its tradition. The
tournament predates the invention of the Senior tour by 40 years.
It annually features the tour's finest field and is played on one
of its most demanding courses, yet last week fewer than 15,000
people came out to see the three days of practice rounds and the
five tournament days that followed. "If you don't support
something, you can't keep something," says Jack Nicklaus, who
lives nearby in North Palm Beach. "The [fans] didn't support it."
Awtrey claims that his organization has tried every kind of
alliance, advertisement and promotion since 1982, when the
tournament was moved to PGA National's Champion course in the
backyard of the PGA of America's headquarters. This year fans
were offered a daily ticket for $20 ($5 off the regular price)
that came with coupons worth more than $2,000 toward greens fees
at local courses. Kids 17 and under were admitted free with an
adult. Practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday were free. Over the
years the tournament has also offered free concerts, exhibitions
by Divot the shot-making clown, a senior citizen's day, a
buy-one-ticket-get-one-free day, and still, when Doug Tewell ran
out to a four-stroke lead on Saturday afternoon, he was greeted
on the 11th tee of this most prestigious of Senior majors by a
gallery of fewer than three dozen (including the eight friends to
whom he had given tickets). "By the time we play this event the
tourist season is over and the snowbirds have gone home," said
Tewell, who didn't take the short shrift personally. "This is a
golf mecca, but the people here would rather play golf than watch
It was hoped that interest would be aroused by the new Senior
class of Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Andy North and Tom Kite, who
two weeks earlier had won the year's first Senior major, the
Tradition. Instead, the gloomy conditions brought out the best in
Tewell and Dana Quigley, a couple of admitted underachievers in
their younger days. Last Thursday night, as dusk was giving way
to darkness, Tewell could be seen running to the 15th tee like a
trespasser hoping to sneak in a few holes after work. He was in a
hurry to play his shot over water on the 164-yard hole while the
flag was limp. He knew that play was about to be suspended
because of darkness after several rain delays earlier in the day,
and he didn't want to risk playing such a difficult shot at a
time when stormy winds might blow his ball astray. He hit to 15
feet and sank the birdie putt moments before the horn sounded.
"One hole can make the difference," he said optimistically.
On Monday, Tewell turned a one-shot lead into a seven-stroke
victory, completing a final-round 67 to win the abbreviated event
in 15 under par. He had been the leader every night from Thursday
through Sunday, though he had completed only two rounds in that
time. On Friday he confided that he had escaped the stock market
correction with little harm done. On Sunday he announced the
birth of his third grandson in Edmond, Okla.: Carson Isaac
Tewell, six pounds, 12 ounces. On Saturday, in yet another bit of
good fortune, he played the last three holes of his first round
and the entirety of his second--with only a half hour in
between--uninterrupted by the elements. He had just finished
signing his name to a second-round 66 that afternoon, giving him
sole possession of the lead at 10 under, when the rain-delay horn
sounded again. It meant his rivals would have to exercise more
patience waiting for yet another thunderstorm to pass, while he
could sit back and enjoy his advantage.
His good luck was a rare commodity, not only when seen against
the plight of the tournament but also against his disappointing
career. Tewell believes his temper and refusal to seek advice
limited him to four victories during his 25 years on the regular
Tour. He was hoping to make amends on the Senior tour when he
suffered an attack of sciatica the day after he turned 50 last
August. "I cried like a baby that night," he says, thinking that
he had ruptured a disk and would require surgery. He was
sidelined for five weeks and played in pain the rest of the year.
That pain has subsided. "I'm focused on the Senior tour," he
says. "I expect to win 10 times or more out here."
The biggest threat to his lead entering the final 18 holes came
from the unlikely Quigley, who maintained a different view of
winning. "I have never, ever given a thought to whether I'll win
again," says the 53-year-old Quigley, who has earned $1.8 million
over the last two years without winning a tournament. "It
absolutely doesn't matter to me. To win, you've got to be
aggressive and, at all costs, shoot the lowest score. But I've
got a little conservatism in me because I was poor for 50 years."
Quigley is a former club pro from New England who played
irregularly on the PGA Tour. This tournament was the 100th in a
row for which he has qualified on the Senior tour. On the advice
of his sports psychologist, he tried to take a week off last
year, but by Wednesday he was catching a flight to Indianapolis
to keep his streak intact. "No one understands that I do not get
mentally or physically tired by playing golf," Quigley says. "I
get such a joy out of competing against these guys and the
conditions and the courses that it really pumps me up. I've
always been compulsive. I was the same with drinking. I couldn't
have three or four beers. I had to drink everything behind the
bar." Quigley says he hasn't had a drink in 11 years.
Since moving to West Palm Beach two decades ago, Quigley says he
has played PGA National "hundreds of times," and his local
knowledge seemed to be paying off on Sunday as he came within a
stroke of Tewell's lead. Then, without warning, he combusted at
the 11th hole with a quadruple-bogey 8. "I hit eight consecutive
terrible shots," he said. "My whole body was numb." That meltdown
inspired him. He birdied four of the next five holes for a 66
that brought him back into contention.
"I know where everything is on this course, and I know almost how
the putts break before I get to them," Quigley says. "It gives
you confidence, and if you've got a confident feeling, you're
going to make a much better stroke. I'm sorry we're leaving here,
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG The blahs Gary Player, who finished at five over, reflected the mood of apathy that pervaded the PGA Seniors.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG New life Tewell, who says his temper hampered his earlier career, breezed to a seven-shot victory.
"If you don't support something, you can't keep it," said Jack
Nicklaus. "The [fans] didn't support the PGA Seniors here."