A Senior Moment
Tom Kite's Collapse
The evening sky, cracked like a mirror, was a surreal mixture of
blue streaks and swirls of gray and purple clouds. One gleaming
white thunderhead hovered above the red 100-yard flag where Tom
Kite delivered shot after shot. It was after seven o'clock, and
Kite was the only person on the range at the TPC of Michigan,
unless you counted his 15-year-old son, David, who borrowed his
dad's sand wedge to try some shots of his own while waiting for
his diligent father to finish practicing.
Tom Kite, the last man on the range? That used to be a familiar
sight. He was known as the hardest-working player of his
generation, a man who achieved success in part because of a Ben
Hogan-like work ethic. Last Saturday evening Kite was animated,
enthused and rejuvenated because for three days at the Ford
Senior Players Championship, in Dearborn, Tom Kite golf was back.
Tom Kite golf is a relentless succession of fairways hit and
greens in regulation, usually adding up to unspectacular but
satisfying 67s and 68s. It's a style the 1992 U.S. Open champ
used to become the Tour's most consistent player, next to Jack
Nicklaus. Kite's only slump came during a brief stretch in 1991,
when he was passed over for the Ryder Cup team. He responded with
the finest golf of his career in '92 and early '93 before he
injured his back on a theme-park ride in Orlando. When he shot a
Tour-record 35 under to win the '93 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic,
Kite was asked which players deserved to be ranked ahead of him.
"It's a short list" was his succinct and accurate reply.
Poor putting, bordering on the yips, dragged him down as he
reached his late 40s, golf's no-man's-land. After 25 straight
years with at least one top 10 finish, Kite limped through '98
and '99 without one. "It was pathetic," he says. "I felt like a
rat in a maze. You make so many right turns and left turns, you
can't get back to where you were."
This year, his rookie season on the Senior tour, has been a
qualified success. In April he won a major, the Tradition, in a
playoff with Larry Nelson and Tom Watson that featured a
mesmerizing combination of heroic shotmaking and brutal putting.
Kite won again last month at the SBC Open in Long Grove, Ill.,
after trading in the Bulls Eye putter he had used for most of his
career for a mallet-headed SeeMore, the putter that played a big
role in reviving Payne Stewart's game last year. The
awkward-looking SeeMore helps with alignment, and Kite discovered
that he had been aiming left of his target.
Three weeks ago a second-round 65 carried him to a third-place
finish at the U.S. Senior Open, and in Dearborn, where his worst
score after three rounds was a 68, Kite appeared to be on the
verge of challenging both Bruce Fleisher and Hale Irwin to become
the tour's dominant force. "This is what I've been waiting for,"
Kite said before the final round. "It's nice to be back."
His declaration proved to be premature. A second Senior major
eluded him on Sunday when he made a pair of double bogeys on the
closing nine--hardly Tom Kite golf. The gaffes added up to a
four-over 76. "All I had to do was shoot even par to get in a
playoff," said Kite, who instead saw Raymond Floyd, who had
trailed by six at the start of the day, sail past him and to
victory with a 66. "The way I was playing, shooting under par
wasn't a real tough go. I played horribly."
The win was Floyd's first since he won this same event in 1996,
and he was appreciative. "To crack the ice in a major after four
years is very special," he said. But at 57 he has no illusions of
challenging on a regular basis. Kite could, if he plays Tom Kite
golf, and he's not far off.
As Kite slowly headed toward the clubhouse after his tough
finish, signing autographs along the way, David walked up next
to him. "Wasn't very much fun today, was it?" Tom said, trying
to smile. No, David answered softly. Then Kite gave his son a
long, warm hug. Overhead, the sun appeared ready to break
through. --Gary Van Sickle
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL LEAN TIMES Floyd rallied from six shots down for his first victory in four years.
COLOR PHOTO: TERRY FAUST
COLOR PHOTO: JAY MATHER
COLOR PHOTO: EDMUND KEENE PHOTOGRAPHERS
Loren Roberts may be 45, but as he demonstrated last week with
his eight-stroke victory in Milwaukee, a player on his A game is
still better than Tiger Woods on his B game. Remember this fact
of Tour life the next time a Darren Clarke takes down Tiger.
What do these courses have in common?
--Brown Deer Park
They're the only municipal courses on the Tour's 2000 schedule.
Brown Deer Park hosted last week's Greater Milwaukee Open.
En-Joie, in Endicott, N.Y., is the site of this week's BC Open,
and the Buick Invitational was held at Torrey Pines, in La
Will Tiger Woods win the British Open and complete his career
--Based on 7,003 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Which course is the best stage for a major:
Augusta National, Pebble Beach or the Old Course?
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SYNONYMS for the PITCH AND RUN
Ad lib, bounce pass, build your own burger, bump and grind,
bumper pool, field hockey, ground chuck, Humpty-Dumpty, lawn
bowling, links sausage, muni magic, pasture pool, pooch punt,
sneak up on it, the low road, under radar.
Tom Kite fared better than any other player in this year's Senior
majors. These five had the best average finishes.
Tradition PGA Open Players Avg.
Tom Kite 1 T2 3 6 3.0
Larry Nelson T2 T2 19 T2 6.3
Hale Irwin 37 T2 1 T4 11.0
Tom Watson T2 T2 T10 18 11.8
Tom Jenkins 25 12 T10 T7 13.5
Deb Means, Savage, Minn.
Deb, a senior at Burnsville High, won the AA state individual
championship while leading the Blaze to the team title. Deb,
whose father, John, coaches the men's team at Minnesota, shot a
two-over 148 for a six-stroke victory. The '98 Minnesota Golf
Association junior girls player of the year plans to play for
Wake Forest this fall.
Robert Hamilton, Carmichael, Calif.
Hamilton, 22, won the Southwestern Amateur by nine shots with a
16-under 272 at Palm Valley Golf Club in Goodyear, Ariz.
Hamilton claimed the Big Sky Conference title in 1996 and '97
while playing for Sacramento State. He played No. 2 for Cal this
season and was the Bears' low finisher at the NCAA Championships.
Marcia Fisher, Canby, Oregon
Fisher, 47 and the owner of a hair salon, defeated Jerilyn White
of Salem 5 and 4 at the Eagle Point Golf Club to take her
seventh Oregon match-play crown. It was her second state title
of the year. In May she shot a five-over 149 at the Emerald
Valley Golf Club in Creswell to claim the Oregon Mid-Amateur by
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