Don't shoot the messenger, but there's something you ought to
know: The Senior tour is here to stay. I see you shaking your
head in disbelief. Frankly, I don't get the Senior tour either,
especially after what I saw at the Senior stop in Naples, Fla.,
last year, when nearly all the fans followed Arnold Palmer. Now,
Arnie may be a phenomenal golfer for someone in his 70s, but
watching him play these days is like watching Mickey Mantle when
he couldn't get around on the fastball anymore, or Johnny Unitas
when his arm was so bad that he could only dink the ball off to
his running backs. Watching Arnie makes me feel sad--and old.
Arnie's average score last year on those easy Senior tour courses
was a shade under 76. That's not the Arnold Palmer I prefer to
remember. I'd rather watch reruns of Big Three Golf, when Palmer
was in his prime. I'd rather see him knocking in putts as if it
were his divine right, tilting his head after cranking another
big drive, hitching up his pants and going head-to-head with Jack
Nicklaus and Gary Player.
The Senior tour was invented for superstars like the Big Three
and Lee Trevino. We had a chance to watch them win all over
again. That was fun for a while, but now they're done, and it's
time to move on. Nostalgia was big in the '90s, but so were the
Spice Girls and Newt Gingrich.
With apologies to Tom Watson, we're all out of superstars, so
it's time to put the fossils back in the museum and let the guys
who are still competitive play golf because--you know
what?--they're pretty damn good.
That much was obvious at this year's tournament in Naples, where
the rough was up, and at most of the other Senior tour venues,
where the pins have been tucked and the fairways fast and hard.
This hasn't been a fluke. In a survey conducted last fall, three
fourths of the Senior players said they favored tougher
conditions. The tour, believe it or not, listened to them. "We
can't have a putting contest every week," Nicklaus said earlier
this year, defending the conditions. "Most of the courses we
play I've skipped all my life--where you have to shoot 25 under
to make the cut."
Turning the courses from cupcakes into prime rib is only the
first step in the evolution of the over-50 circuit into a real
golf tour. Here's what else needs to be done.
Increase the field. Seventy-eight players--about a third of them
in the nostalgia category--isn't enough. In fact, limiting the
field like that isn't fair. Let's allow 110 players, with the top
60 on the money list exempt, not just the top 31. At least 25
full exemptions should be available at the Q school instead of
the current eight. Open the doors and give any 50-year-old with a
dream a reasonable chance. Hasn't golf had enough exclusion?
Plenty of former Tour players and club pros have the game to win
on the Senior tour but they can't get in because it's a closed
shop. Why? Because too many washed-up players are riding this
gravy train and they don't want the competition. Sorry, gramps,
the free lunch is over.
Add a cut. That's right, just like in a real tournament. The
field will be cut to the top 60 and ties after Saturday's second
round. Those missing the cut will get $1,000 for the effort.
Separate the Super Seniors. The over-60 guys, whom some fans
still want to see, currently play two events in one. They cash a
check for the two-round event for players 60 and over, plus
another one for the three-rounder because there's no cut. On my
Senior tour, there will be no more double-dipping. We'll bump up
the purse for the old-timers, but they'll have to choose between
the two competitions. The new Super Seniors will use forward
tees, go off first on Fridays and Saturdays, and play in a
Wednesday pro-am, leaving the Thursday pro-am for the younger
These changes will make for a better life for some of the
players who now feel compelled to play every week to keep their
seats at the table. Last year seven players teed it up in at
least 37 of the Senior tour's 39 events. "This tour absolutely
makes you play golf [because it has so few exemptions]," says
Dana Quigley, the tour's reigning iron man with 124 consecutive
starts. "That's not the way the tour planned it, and I think a
lot of guys wish it weren't like this. For guys like me, though,
it's a godsend to have something to play for every week."
A reason to play? Sounds good. I think that could translate into
a reason to watch, too.
COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS
Says Nicklaus, "Most of the courses we play I've skipped all my
life--where you have to shoot 25 under to make the cut."