David Duval has never minced words, and on the eve of starting a new chapter in his professional life, he’s not about to change.
“I expect to succeed,” he said of his first foray into the PGA Tour Champions at this week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai Golf Club in Ka’upulehu-Kona, Hawaii.
The Jacksonville native and Episcopal graduate, who won 13 times on the PGA Tour and for most of the 1999 season supplanted Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world, turned 50 years old Nov. 9.
While he hasn’t made a cut on the PGA Tour since the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews, Duval pointed out that he certainly has enough tread left on the tires.
“I haven’t played 50 golf tournaments in the last decade and so I’m patient and giving myself time to get my feet under myself again,” he said in a video posted on the PGA Tour Champions Twitter site. “My wife Susie and I are so excited about the opportunity and so looking forward to it.”
Duval won all of his Tour events between 1997 and 2001, including the 1999 Players, the 1997 Tour Championship and the 2001 British Open. He won four times in 1998 and captured the Tour’s scoring and money titles.
He became the first player to shoot 59 in the final round of a tournament to win, at the 1999 American Express.
Duval was the runner-up in the Masters twice and had 11 top-10s in majors. But he went into a prolonged slump beginning in 2002, brought on by a series of injuries from neck to knee.
Duval’s main problem used to be his strength: the best combination of long and accurate off the tee. There were a few times when it appeared he might have regained his old touch, such as a tie for second in the 2009 U.S. Open and a tie for second at Pebble Beach in 2010.
But since his last made cut, Duval hasn’t played on the weekend in 22 starts in six years, counting two appearances in a Korn Ferry Tour event near his Denver home.
Duval has always seemed at peace. He took on three stepchildren when he married his wife, and they had two more children. He also combined family with his last big moment on the golf course, winning the 2016 PNC Father-Son with stepson Nick Karavites.
Duval has been an analyst for Golf Channel, drawing good reviews for his insight and preparedness.
He’s also been working on his game, but not putting any pressure on himself.
“I’ve been practicing and playing and working at it,” he said in the PGA Tour Champions interview. “Getting over some little injury problems I’ve had over the past couple of years. That’s all behind me now. But I’m sure there were will be some nerves and anxiety and rust.”
Also in the field this week is Jim Furyk—who shot a 62 in the opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA Tour last week while playing on a sponsor exemption— as well as last season’s Charles Schwab Cup winner Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Mark O’Meara, Vijay Singh and defending champion Darren Clarke.
The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai is a 54-hole event. It’s the first of 28 events on the PGA Tour Champions schedule in 2022 that will span 20 states and three countries. A record $62 million in prize money will be up for grabs. Each event will be televised on Golf Channel, with three scheduled for weekend coverage on NBC: the Senior PGA Championship, the Senior Open Championship and the U.S. Senior Open.
There, among fairways lined with trees dripping with Spanish Moss, on the banks of the St. Johns River, 17-time PGA Tour winner Jim Furyk and his wife, Tabitha, are hosting the first PGA Tour Champions event in the area since 2002, the final year of the Legends of Golf at the World Golf Hall of Fame King & Bear.
It’s a new generation of Champions Tour stars who have come out to test their skills on the meandering fairways and tricky push-up greens of Timuquana.
The field is led by reigning PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest player in history to win a major championship in May at Kiawah Island, S.C., plus other major champions such as Schwab Cup points leader Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Furyk, Fred Couples, John Daly, Ernie Els, Mark O’Meara and Jose Maria Olazabal — plus Ryder Cup captains Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington.
If all of the players who have committed or indicated they will have committed by the Oct. 1 deadline show up at Timuquana, the field will have 58 past PGA Tour winners who have combined for 438 titles; 20 players combining for 38 major championships; 56 past PGA Tour Champions winners combining for 261 titles; and 23 PGA Tour Champion major winners who have combined to win 50 majors.
The tournament has the backing of Constellation Energy for five years — which means a commitment of $2.6 million to charity — and the presenting sponsor is Circle K.
Other corporate support will be seen in the number of restaurants that set up shop at the course (such as M Shack and Taco Lu), participants in three pro-ams (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week) and the purchase of hospitality packages.
Also coming will be musical stars Darius Rucker and Scott McCreery, who will perform at a concert on Oct. 5 at Daily’s Place.
The Furyk factor
Why the strong support from both players, the entertainers and the First Coast business community, in the tournament’s first year, in the middle of football season?
PGA Tour Champions President Brady Miller has an easy answer.
“It’s Jim and Tabitha,” he said of one of the First Coast’s leading power couples in golf. “They have supported charities; Tabitha is on numerous boards and everyone wanted to be a part of because of them. The question was, what level?”
Tournament director Adam Renfroe said there was some uncertainty about how the tournament would be received. The dates were announced several days before the Tour was forced to cancel The Players and officials have been monitoring the impact of the COVID surge this summer.
Renfroe called the overall response by the business community and fans a “pleasant surprise.”
“It speaks to the relationship Jim and Tabitha have in Jacksonville and their charity work,” Renfroe said. “I think there’s confidence in the corporate community that their money and their sponsorships are going to be put to good use. We’re really proud of Jacksonville and the response we’ve gotten.”
The race to Schwab playoffs
The competition will be important to the players since the Furyk & Friends is the next-to-last tournament to insure a top-72 finish on the Schwab Cup points list and qualify for the three-tournament Schwab Cup series.
It’s been a two-year process, because of the pandemic, with 2020 and 2021 folded into one race.
Langer’s runnerup finish to K.J. Choi last week at Pebble Beach gave him a lead of more than $164,000 over Furyk, with Jerry Kelly, Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez rounding out the top-five.
Langer is seeking his sixth Schwab Cup title.
And what golf purist from the First Coast won’t want to see how the field attacks Timuquana?
“It will be set up firm and fast and the greens allow for defense,” Furyk said. “Depending on the weather, single-digits [under par] could win. If you drive the ball well you will have a short iron in your hand a reasonable number of times. The par-5s are reachable. But with the pushup greens and some putts that can break a little funny, you can make bogeys as well.”
When Furyk first approach Miller about holding a PGA Tour Champions event, he said they both had the same idea: play at Timuquana.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Miller said. “I don’t think it’s going to favor a certain style and I think the guys are going to love having to hit different shots into and around the greens.”
Come for the golf, stay for the party
But just as much as it will be a golf tournament, Tabitha Furyk wants it to be a community celebration. The 2020 Players Championship was canceled because of the onset of the pandemic. The 2021 Players was held with limited spectators.
Furyk & Friends could be a way for golf fans to unwind in a comfortable setting.
“We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to feel like they own part of this tournament,” she said. “It’s super-important to us that this just isn’t about golf, but also about the great food the Jacksonville restaurants have to offer and the music. It’s a party in our community and we want everyone to come.”
There will still be safety measures in place. All hospitality venues are open-air, hand sanitizers will be plentiful and social distancing is being encouraged. Masks are required for those with clubhouse access.
But autographs will be allowed and Miller said that close to 90 percent of the PGA Tour Champions members are vaccinated.
Furyk said another reason he’s enthused about the tournament: almost every player in the field competed in The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra for years but most of them have never seen Timuquana, downtown Jacksonville or the Ortega area.
“They’ve really only seen the airport, the beach and the TPC Sawgrass,” Furyk said. “Now they’re going to get a chance to see our downtown area and the beautiful areas on the river we have.”
PGA Tour Champions on the First Coast
Senior Players Championship
1987: Gary Player shot 8-under 208 at the Sawgrass Country Club to beat Chi Chi Rodriguez and Bruce Crampton by one shot at the Sawgrass Country Club.
1988: Billy Casper’s 10-under 278 at the TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course beat Al Geiberger by two shots.
1989: Orville Moody lit up the Valley Course for a 17-under 271, the lowest 72-hole individual score in a Champions Tour event on the First Coast. He beat Charles Coody by two shots.
Legends of Golf
1998: The tournament was played at the Golf Club of Amelia for one year when the World Golf Hall of Fame Slammer & Squire Course wasn’t ready. Charles Coody and Dale Douglass won the team competition for the third time in sudden death against Hugh Baiocchi and David Graham after both teams finished 24-under 192.
1999: Hubert Green and Gil Morgan shot 22-under 194 at the Slammer & Squire to beat John Mahaffy and Tom Wargo by three shots.
2000: Jim Colbert and Andy North won at 25-under 191 at the Slammer & Squire, outlasting Bruce Fleisher and David Graham by one shot.
2001: The same two teams remained at the top after a rain-shortened 36-hole event, which was moved to the King & Bear. Colbert and North shot 20-under 124 and nipped Fleisher and Graham by one shot.
2002: The tournament format changed to individual stroke play for the Senior Division, with earnings counting for the first time. Doug Tewell edged Bobby Wadkins by one shot at 11-under 205 at the King & Bear. It was late announced that the tournament was moving to Savannah.
After winning just once on the PGA Tour, he won his first two starts on the 50-and-older circuit in 1999.
Professional golfer Bruce Fleisher, a longtime Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, resident, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Few golfers enjoyed the second-chance nature of the PGA Tour Champions more than Fleisher. After winning just once on the PGA Tour in more than 400 tries, he won his first two starts on the 50-and-older circuit in 1999 and claimed 18 total titles, including the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.
“I played against Bruce when he came home from the regular tour and it was like he never missed a green or a fairway,” said Roger Kennedy Sr., a Stuart resident and PGA Professional who played on the PGA Tour Champions. “When he turned 50, I told him the only guy who could beat him on the Champions Tour was Lee Trevino. I knew he was going to clean up.”
“But forget about the golf. The thing I remember most about Bruce was he was the sweetest guy in the world. He was just nice to everybody. No ego whatsoever.”
Fleisher also got a second chance in life when he skipped the 2002 U.S. Open and instead received a free physical at Vanderbilt during a Champions event that revealed he had prostate cancer. Fleisher’s father, Herb, also died of cancer when he was 72.
Nicknamed “Flash,” Fleisher was introduced to the sport at age seven when he started caddying with his two older brothers when they lived in Wilmington, North Carolina. The family moved to Miami when he was 14 and his game started to take off.
He won the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto Country Club when he was 19 (third-youngest at the time) and that got him a spot into the 1969 Masters, where he was low amateur and beat Arnold Palmer in the first round by four shots. Fleisher, who was Jewish, also won the individual and team titles at the 1969 Maccabiah Games.
He earned his spot on the PGA Tour by making it through the celebrated 1971 Q-school at BallenIsles Country Club that included Hall of Famers Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins, as well as David Graham, John Mahaffey and Steve Melnyk.
Despite his success as an amateur, Fleisher struggled to stay on the PGA Tour and eventually became a PGA Professional based in South Florida. He won the South Florida PGA Professional Championship twice (1981 and 1987) and dominated the local mini-tours.
Fleisher’s lone victory on the PGA Tour came at the 1991 New England Classic, when at 42 he beat Ian Baker-Finch in a playoff. Baker-Finch would win the British Open the next week.
Turning 50 in late 1998 gave Fleisher reason to celebrate. He won his first two starts, at Key Biscayne and Naples, and would have won a third in a row had he not got sick when he finished second in Tampa. Phil Mickelson last year became the only player to match Fleisher’s double-victory start.
Because of his lack of success on the PGA Tour, Fleisher had to go to Q-school to earn one of five spots on the 50-and-older tour. Fleisher complained to then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem about the closed-door nature of the Champions.
“He said, Bruce, if you’re good enough, you’ll get out here,’” Fleisher said. “I guess I’m good enough.”
His wife, Wendy, said Fleisher’s biggest weakness was his lack of confidence. She used to hide newspaper stories that might have included anything negative about her husband.
“For some reason, Bruce has never thought he was as good as everyone else thought he was,” Wendy said after he won the 2001 U.S. Senior Open. “Whether he sees it or not, he has to deal with that in his own mind.”
Fleisher earned almost 10 times more on the PGA Tour Champions ($14.9 million) than he made on the PGA Tour ($1.7 million). The family bought a home in BallenIsles – site of his ’71 q-school success – and lived there for more than 15 years. He attended the 50-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ 1971 PGA victory at BallenIsles on Feb. 28.
“He was a master of giving free tips on the range to the members,” said Jeff Fitzherbert, BallenIsles’ director of golf. “He was just kind, considerate and very approachable. Being a former club professional, it was nice to talk to him about the golf business.”
In 2017, Fleisher was inducted into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
“Bruce was the consummate pro,” his brother Jerry told the USGA. “He shaved every day. He always had a crease in his pants. He was a proud member of the Champions Tour.”
Fleisher is survived by his wife, Wendy, daughter Jessica Jones, son-in-law Jason Jones, grandson Jake, older brothers Les and Jerry and sister Karen.
After narrowly getting an extension, officials are hopeful PGA Tour Champions event can stay in South Dakota.
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Miguel Angel Jimenez stood in the Minnehaha Country Club driving range Thursday morning, stretching with a club in his arms, a lit cigar dangling from his mouth. Just then a fan approached him and asked for a selfie. Jimenez nodded, leaned in and smiled toward the man’s phone, then went back to work as the man thanked the 2020 Sanford International champion and scurried away.
A short chip shot away, Bernhard Langer stood on a practice green and strained to squeeze his name onto a golf ball, fulfilling the autograph request of a fan who had nervously approached the two-time Masters champion.
Those little moments have made the Sanford International a success in Sioux Falls, and the PGA Tour Champions event returns this week for the fourth year of its original five-year contract. And thanks to a summer agreement that wasn’t exactly last-minute but was definitely taking long enough to make organizers nervous, there’s an extended future for the tournament in Sioux Falls, as a deal was struck with Minnehaha Country Club to keep it there through 2024.
A year ago when the tournament was getting underway, the COVID-19 pandemic was still canceling and limiting sporting events across the country, and the Sanford International went out of its way to advertise itself as the first major sporting event to allow fans. They pulled it off largely without incident, and the tournament was a rousing success, with Angel Jimenez memorably celebrating his victory with a cigar on the 18th green and a glass of wine at his post-round press conference.
But behind the scenes there were rumblings that getting Minnehaha membership to agree to an extension was not the sure thing outsiders might expect.
While the tournament itself is essentially one week of events, its overall presence at the country club covers more than two months, in the height of golf season. After an initial breakdown in talks after the Minnehaha board of directors rejected an extension proposal, the two sides got back to the table this summer and struck a deal.
Now, as the fourth year of the event kicks off, there’s a strong sense of relief among tournament organizers.
“I can remember pretty vividly sitting here in this exact spot a year ago and being asked what the future of the tournament looked like, and saying we had every intention of extending it,” said Sanford executive vice president Micah Aberson. “And then finishing that press conference and saying to (tournament director) Josh Brewster, ‘We should probably figure out how to get that done.’ It was a bit of an adventure to get there, but we’re extremely excited to extend it and very happy that it will be here at Minnehaha Country Club for at least (three more years after this).”
After hearing the concerns of membership and taking steps to address them, the extension was reached.
“It was kind of a scary process, but I think at the end of the day the membership, the tournament and all the sponsors understood what was at stake for the community,” Brewster said, referring not just to the warm reception the Sanford International has received from local sports fans, but the philanthropic impact it has on the community.
Tournament made concessions to get more country club members on board
Of course, now it’s time to deliver, and win over the members who still weren’t in favor of keeping the event.
“We made a lot of promises,” Aberson said. “The membership met us in the middle, but then my gaze goes to Josh and his team and it’s time to execute on all that now. I’m proud of the work they’ve done. We want the membership to feel like this is their tournament, too. We want them to have pride in the Sanford International just like we have, and I feel like we’re making progress in that regard.”
A membership tent is new this year, along the 17th green, and plans were reworked to get the village assembled faster and with less of an impact on the course. A new merchandise pavilion has been added to the 9th green, and concessions will be expanded around the course. Most of the other logistical changes, however, were behind the scenes.
“I think the players and fans won’t see too much (difference),” Brewster said. “A lot of it was on the front end, just in regards to the construction we do. We had to look internally to how do we do it quicker and make it less of a burden on membership.”
While the course always receives extra care for a televised PGA event, it looks objectively even better than usual this year, thanks in part to heavy rains a few weeks ago and recent sunshine. Ticket sales are up over 30 percent from last year.
“I’ve been coming here for 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the golf course in better shape than it is now,” said tournament host and two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.
“The course looks very good, it’s great,” added Jimenez. “No complaints about that. I hope we have a beautiful weekend.”
North added that the field is also as good as it’s ever been. Big names like Ernie Els and Fred Couples are back after debuting last year, while Jim Furyk is here for the first time. Furyk is vice captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, serving under captain Steve Stricker, the winner of the inaugural Sanford International.
That they’re both here the week before the Ryder Cup illustrates how this event has resonated with the tour pros. They don’t skip this one.
And they’re happy it’s staying in Sioux Falls.
“I had heard the rumblings of maybe not being here any longer,” Stricker said. “So I’m very excited to come back here and for the guys to come back here. I think it’s a great venue for us. It’s challenging – the greens are great, they’re tricky. And you got a good support system here. The people show up here to support the event. I was concerned when I heard that (the tournament may leave), so good news that it’ll be coming back here.”
Darren Clarke took a step in the right direction to becoming just the fourth player in history to win both the British Open and Senior British Open on Thursday.
After missing the cut last week at the 149th British Open at Royal St. George’s, site of his 2011 British Open title, Darren Clarke, said, “All I ever wanted as a young kid was to get my name on the Claret Jug.”
But at 52 years of age, Clarke has set a new goal.
“The Senior British would be very special for me,” he said.
Clarke took a step in the right direction to becoming just the fourth player in history to win both the British Open and Senior British Open on Thursday. He fired a 5-under 65 at Sunningdale Golf Club (Old) in Berkshire, England, to share the lead after the first round with South African James Kingston.
Clarke has enjoyed a resurgence on the PGA Tour Champions this year, claiming two wins in the last eight months. He credited video lessons with swing coach Shauheen Nakhjavani for his strong play. Clarke has plenty of experience at the famed Sunningdale links designed by Willie Park Jr.
“Sunningdale is one of those golf courses where when you play it, you think you’re going to have lots of chances and you go out and play with a card in your hand, it’s a different golf course,” he said.
With a victory this week, Clarke, a 14-time European Tour winner, would join Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson as the only players to have won the Claret Jug and the Senior Open.
Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the defending champion having won his fourth title when the tournament was last played in 2019, opened with 4-under 66 and trails by one along with Stephen Dodd and Ricardo Gonzalez. Two-time British Open champ Ernie Els, who could also join select company with the rare double, is among a party of five at 3-under 67, including American Jerry Kelly and Australian Robert Allenby, who is making his senior circuit debut.
Jim Furyk and wife, Tabitha, are putting on the Furyk and Friends PGA Tour Champions event in 2021.
The Timuquana Country Club, the PGA Tour Champions and the Furyk family are throwing a party.
More than a year out from the first PGA Tour Champions event on the First Coast since 2002, Jim and Tabitha Furyk met with the media on Monday to lay out some of the plans for the Constellation Energy Furyk and Friends tournament on Oct. 4-10, 2021, at Timuquana.
The tournament, which evolved from the Furyk and Friends charity tournament at the Sawgrass Country Club from 2011-2020, will benefit charities that help children, families and the military on the First Coast.
Constellation, a Baltimore-based energy company, has pledged $500,000 per year to the foundation beginning in 2021, and already made an initial donation of $100,000 this year. Over the duration of the first contract, at least $2.6 million will go to charity.
The purse will be $2 million and the event carried by Golf Channel. It will be the first nationwide TV exposure for Timuquana, the Donald Ross-designed course that was built in 1923.
Furyk has a sponsor relationship with Constellation’s parent company, Exelon, that goes back two decades. Constellation also was the title sponsor for the Senior Players Championship from 2007-2018.
“Tabitha and I like to have a good time and we have a lot of friends who like that as well … golf, food, drink and fun, though not in that order,” Furyk said. “Golf is probably fourth.”
But the main priority will be charity. In the past, the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation has raised money for charities such as Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Blessings in a Backpack, Operation Shower (a baby shower for military mothers), Community PedsCare and the Monique Burr Foundation.
“Our relationship with Jim and the PGA Tour has just gotten better and better over time,” said Mark Huston, president of Constellation Retail. “Jim is a standup person, a good family man who gives back to the community and is recognized as a leader among PGA Tour players. It’s great to be associated with a family and a sport that has such a positive reputation.”
Plans were released for three hospitality venues at Timuquana, the 18th hole Skybox, Cabanas on 17 and Club 58 (which commemorates Furyk’s record PGA Tour score for one round), also near the 17th green.
The sides will be flipped for the tournament, with No. 17 the short par-3 and No. 18 the par-4 adjacent to the cart area and tennis courts. Furyk said the Constellation hospitality venue will be on the back left of the green, a presenting sponsor venue on the right to right-rear of the green and the right side will have spectator viewing.
Furyk said plans will be fluid, based on whether the COVID-19 pandemic has eased within the 13 months before the tournament.
“We know there are no guarantees,” he said. “We hope by next October we can have fans but we want to do it in the safest manner possible. Our job is to make sure we have options.”
Furyk noted that the PGA Tour Champions has had pro-ams since returning in late July (Furyk won the first event back, at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Michigan, his first PGA Tour Champions start) and next week, at the Tour’s stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fans will be allowed on the course.
“The Tour has done a good job of getting us back to tournament golf, but also changing and reacting to the climate,” Furyk said. “A lot depends on area governments and where are the hot spots.”
But the organization is planning for the best.
“Our mission and goal is to have a great event, draw in the fans and showcase our city,” Furyk said. “You look at the view of the St. Johns River and downtown from this course and it’s a great opportunity to bring in a lot of folks to watch this, raise more money and help more people.”
The military will have a strong presence at the tournament, given that Timuquana is adjacent to NAS Jacksonville, the third-largest naval base in the U.S.
Tournament director Adam Renfroe said the 21,000 military and civilian personnel who are at the base on a daily basis will be offered complimentary admission, and a military hospitality venue will be built near one of the closing holes.
“We will have a strong relationship with NAS Jacksonville,” Renfroe said. “There will be a number of military-driven initiatives during tournament week and we anticipate a lot of people coming from the base. Supporting them will be a central part of the week.”
The timing of launching the tournament also couldn’t be better. A new wave of marquee players has become eligible for the Champions Tour and two of them, Furyk and Phil Mickelson, won their first starts last month.
Also becoming eligible within the past two years have been World Golf Hall of Fame members Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, plus K.J. Choi, Darren Clarke, Mike Weir and Rich Beem.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington will join the list next year.
“It’s amazing all these guys are jumping right in and playing well,” said Davis Love III. “The competition is tough. If you make five pars in a row you feel like you’re out of it.”
Other possible participants will be Fred Couples, John Daly, Bernhard Langer, Mark O’Meara and Colin Montgomerie.
Renfroe said marketing a tournament with a potential field like that — and with the Furyks’ name on it — won’t be difficult.
“The name recognition of those players goes a long way, and the reputation of Jim and Tabitha in this community goes a long way,” Renfroe said. “The players have had long and successful careers, with a lot of history. There are a lot of legends who will be playing here.”
Langer has won 116 professional tournaments. At 62, he dominates the PGA Tour Champions with 41 titles in 14 years.
Bernhard Langer has played golf all over the world. He has won 116 professional tournaments, at least one on six different continents. At 62, he dominates the PGA Tour Champions with 41 titles in 14 years.
But Langer estimates it’s been about 50 years since he’s played such little golf in a six-week period.
And he misses it.
Langer, like professional athletes around the world, is finding ways to stay occupied and stay fit while following social distancing protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic. But beckoning Bernhard outside his home at the Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton is a wide-open, barren golf course.
“You got to look at the bright side, there are good things that come out of this. We have our son at home, and we can spend more time at home,” Langer said.
“But do I miss golf? Yes, I do! It was kind of nice to have a break for a week or two. Then I got a little itchy. I certainly would love to play, practice, or even compete. It’s very strange to live on a golf course and not be able to play golf or practice.”
Langer played a couple of rounds about two weeks ago in Naples. Prior, he played a round or two at Woodfield before it closed March 25 and in Myrtle Beach the second week of March while there to watch his son, Jason, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, play in a tournament.
This is a man who has not allowed age to slow him down. He plays 20 to 25 events on the Tour Champions alone, five this year from mid-January to early-March, finishing in the top 6 in four and winning the Cologuard Classic in Tucson. He and Jason won the Father-Son Challenge in Orlando in December.
While he enjoys spending more time with Vikki, his wife of 36 years, Langer is ready to get back into the swing of golf. After all, he can only produce so many “Burn Baby Bern” videos – his attempt to become more active on social media with exercise videos that typically end with him in his pool. The videos appear on Langer’s and the PGA Tour’s social media sites.
“I think golf is an ideal sport to do social distancing because you have wide-open spaces,” said Langer, who was born outside of Munich, Germany, but has lived in Boca for nearly 40 years. “You can carry your bag or use a pull trolley. Even if you’re in a cart by yourself, you can wipe down a cart.
“There’s really hardly any chance of getting exposed to the virus.”
Langer is “actually questioning” why courses are closed, believing few sports like golf can be played while social distancing and remaining safe. As for tournament golf, Langer is in step with at least the PGA Tour, which became the first professional sports league to announce a plan to return, saying Thursday the season would resume the second week of June with tournaments scheduled every week through Dec. 6, except for Thanksgiving weekend. That plan is dependent on health guidelines.
Langer, whose two PGA Tour majors’ victories are the 1985 and 1993 Masters, said he “absolutely” believes golf can lead the charge for sports returning.
“We don’t have physical contact,” he said. “In football, you got to hit each other. In basketball, they’re going to have to hit each other. In soccer, they’re going to have bodily contact. Baseball, they’re going to run into each other.
“We’re one of the few sports where we don’t. I really don’t need to go near anybody if I don’t want to. Golf is different in that regard. Absolutely.”
That plan, he believes, will include tournaments without spectators at least to start.
“Just do it for television,” he said. “It would give the people something to watch. People get bored at home. They’re just sitting around watching the news or reading books, which is good. they’re getting closer to their families, so there’s good things as well.
“But I think people are hungry for live sport and we could provide that.”
Langer is monitoring the pandemic in two countries. He has family members, including his mother and a brother, and friends in Germany. That nation issued some of the world’s tightest restrictions about a month ago and has one of the lowest mortality rates among the largest countries in the world. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Wednesday the country would slowly pull back on social-distancing rules starting next week.
As for the guidelines the last month, Langer said his family and friends have lived life in Germany in similar fashion to the way we have in United States.
Langer’s 41 Tour Champions titles are four shy of the record held by Hale Irwin. He is the tour’s career money leader with more than $29.1 million. All events on the Tour Champions through June have been canceled with the Senior Players Championship, one of five majors on the tour, still on for early July in Akron.
The biggest challenge for a 60-something to return after a long absence is in the more delicate part of the game.
“The good thing for me, who has been doing this for 44 years, it shouldn’t take me too long to get back to whatever I was doing,” he said. “The part that suffers the most is the short game. Longer game comes back quicker.
“When we get notice that things might start again, I’m going to have to focus on my short game.”
And continue that assault on golf courses around the world.
Tom D’Angelo is a staff writer for the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter: email@example.com
After more than 1,100 career starts in his illustrious career, Hall of Famer Tom Kite pens his first letter asking for a sponsor’s exemption. Allow us to explain.
What is a World Golf Hall of Famer with 19 PGA Tour victories, more than $27 million in earnings and more than 1,100 career combined starts as a professional doing asking for a sponsor invite into the PGA Tour Champions Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona, this week?
Good question. Tom Kite, the golfer in question, provided me the answer.
“I failed the tour’s playing standard regulation last year because of how poorly I played,” he said.
There’s a playing standard on the senior circuit? Who knew? Here’s the actual language of this arcane rule that was implemented roughly 20 years ago, according to the PGA Tour Champions.
“Upon the conclusion of the season, any player who has played a minimum of six official rounds and played in a minimum of three tournaments shall have maintained a scoring average for all rounds played by such player during the previous year in tournaments awarding official money no higher than four and one-half (4.5) strokes in excess of the average score for all players in such tournaments.”
There’s two opposing schools of thought on this: you either think this rule is a joke and Kite is an all-time great, a name golf fans still care to pay money to see and he deserves our admiration that he’s still grinding and should be allowed to go out on his terms. Or you think this is a reasonable rule meant to protect the quality of the field and would tell Kite, ‘C’mon, old man, your time has passed,’ and, in what is very much a closed shop, you’re taking a spot from a more worthy player.
Kite, 70, has played in 426 senior tournaments since turning 50 in December 1999 and racked up 10 wins, 125 top-10 finishes and more than $14 million. But last season he played just 11 tournaments and earned $26,476. And, for our purposes here, the bigger problem was his scoring average in ‘19: 76.148, which was a differential of 4.847 compared to the fields he played against, so that’s how he missed the 4.5 stroke average.
Kite’s final tournament in 2019 was the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach, where he won his lone major in 1992. He shot his age, 69, in his first round but followed it up with a 79 at Poppy Hills Golf Course.
“I forgot about the rule,” Kite said. “I could’ve signed my scorecard incorrectly or not signed it at all and been DQed and still have my status.”
Here’s more on the rule affecting Kite’s status this season.
“Any such player failing to meet the guidelines set forth in this Section C.1(a) of this Article III shall retain regular membership but for subsequent seasons shall no longer be exempt. The scoring average portion of the Performance Guidelines shall not be applicable for those members who have a minimum of 50 combined (PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions) victories in tournaments awarding official money, or players in the All-Time Victory Category A.1 (i)(i). There shall be no other exemption from this scoring average provision of the Performance Guidelines.”
The bar is set so high for a “get out of jail card” – a combined 50 wins between the tour’s junior and senior circuits – too high, you could argue, that even stalwart Bernhard Langer wouldn’t meet it. (Hale Irwin is one of the few, the proud, who does.)
But Kite didn’t complain about being in this no-man’s land to start the season. In fact, he said, “I endorse the policy 100%.”
As a result, Kite sent his first letter requesting a sponsor exemption to tournament officials at the Tucson tournament, which begins Friday.
Fifty years ago this June, Kite made his PGA Tour debut at the U.S. Open at Hazeltine. He passed Tour Q-School in his first attempt and made it through Monday Qualifying initially. Never did he have to ask for a handout. Well, there was one time he accepted a sponsor exemption into the old Crosby Clambake, but that was arranged by his amateur partner.
Part of the reason Kite may have accepted having his exempt status suspended – technically, he qualifies through the all-time points, all-time money and Hall of Fame categories – is that he can receive unlimited sponsor exemptions. He already has another one lined up for the Hoag Classic next week in Newport Beach, California, and then he will re-assess his plans. And there’s also this:
“A player who loses his exempt status for failing to meet the scoring average provision of the Performance Guidelines may regain exempt status immediately by finishing among the top one-half (1/2) of the starting field in any PGA Tour Champions cosponsored or approved tournament awarding official prize money, excluding official money team events.”
In other words, if he can finish inside the top half of an official, non-team event – top-39 or better this week – his status will be reinstated. It’s not a high bar and one Kite is confident he can achieve.
“I know I’m at the end of my rope,” he said. “I don’t have any super-high aspirations other than to see the guys and compete and get my status back. I didn’t play worth a darn last year, but you know what? I’m still a pretty good player.”