I don’t spend a lot of time writing about the Champions Tour which is odd given that I spent nine years of my life trying to qualify to play on it. Maybe it’s all about immersing yourself in something, giving everything you have to achieve it and then coming away sated from the effort. That’s what it feels like anyway.
But a lot’s changed since the time I was playing. Now the fresh meat coming off the PGA Tour each year to populate the Champions Tour feels more like contemporary players, guys that you think of as still fit enough to compete on the PGA Tour. Guys like Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia, Kenny Perry, John Cook, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, David Frost and John Huston.
And then you also have the “transitional names” of the PGA Tour players who bridged the gap between the “old guy” founders of the Champions Tour—those who proved the product but also pigeonholed it as “old”—and this most recent breed. The transitional names would include: Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Greg Norman (although he never played much), Tom Watson, Mark O’Meara, Joey Sindelar, Craig Stadler and Loren Roberts.
What’s of rising interest about the Champions Tour is that most of the founders have completed their careers and we’re now down to the best of the transitional players and the new-kid players. And because of the pedigree, names and quality of play of the current Tour roster, people are beginning to see the Champions Tour players with the same appreciative eyes that they see the regular Tour. You don’t see too many guys like me out on the Champions Tour anymore. And when you do, they are almost gone soon after they arrive; it’s not so much them as it is the talent they’re now forced to play against.
And so now here we are at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship and who do we have in the elite, 30-man field? Tour players. Tour players led by Tom Lehman, Mark Calcavecchia, Aussie, Peter Senior, John Cook, Russ Cochran, Olin Browne, Mark O’Meara, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Jeff Sluman, Tom Watson, Michael Allen (who finished P2 last year losing to John Cook), Jay Don Blake, John Huston and Kenny Perry. And that’s just the last 15 guys on the tee sheet for Thursday’s first round.
They are paired in order of their current Schwab Cup Points which they’ve accumulated throughout the year by finishing Top 10 in tournaments. So these are not only the name players on the Tour, they’re the ones who’ve played the best all year long. The Champions Tour has a history of name players coming out who just weren’t able to live up to their names. Most of them were guys who had a fallow gap between the end of their PGA Tour careers and the beginning of their Champions Tour career. Not to pick on them, but guys like Curtis Strange, Gary Koch, Andy North, Lanny Watkins and Hal Sutton. Not so much anymore. This is Fred Couples’ second year on Tour and in just 26 tournaments, he’s already inside the Top 100 Career Champions Tour money winners (96th).
They’ll be playing in San Francisco for the second year in a row at the TPC Harding Park. Tom Lehman has a commanding lead and if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, he should take the $440,000 prize for winning the tournament and the $1.0 million annuity for winning the Schwab Cup.
But Calcavecchia is hot on his tail and plays in his sort of detached, give-a-hoot, aggressive manner. If his putting is on, he’s hot.
And John Cook is going for a three-peat on the Schwab Cup having won the last two. His grizzled experience and gritty win last year on the same course make him a serious threat. Plus the fact that he was just named as an assistant captain by Fred Couples to replace Michael Jordan on the Presidents Cup roster could give him a new sense of himself; he seemed quite honored and very pleased.
And I think the other reason my attention is drawn back to the Champions Tour is that it has been announced that next year, the Schwab Cup will be coming to my home club, Desert Mountain, here in Scottsdale, Arizona.
It will be played on our Cochise course, the same course that hosted the Tradition for twelve years beginning with the inaugural event in 1989. The Champions Tour returning with the Schwab Cup coincides with the 25th anniversary of Desert Mountain, which just completed the largest turnover of a private club by a developer to its members at the end of 2010.
It’s exciting times for us and with the completion of the tournament in San Francisco, they grow bigger beginning Sunday evening.