Window of opportunity short, even for champs
ST. LOUIS -- Winning a major championship isn't easy. Then again if it was, it probably wouldn't be called a major.
This week at Bellerive Country Club, the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid is the first crack at a major for players on the 50-and-over circuit this season.
In the last 10 years, the average age of a Senior PGA Champion is just shy of 54. Among that group is Tom Watson, who captured the 2011 championship at Valhalla at the anomalistic age of 61, becoming the second-oldest winner in history behind only Jock Hutchison, who accomplished the feat at age 62 in 1947.
That adage, "You're only as old as you feel," is a great one. However, it's not representative of the so-called window of opportunity that faces professional golfers when it comes to contending in majors on both the PGA and Champions Tour.
Yes, just like anything else in life, there are exceptions to every rule -- Watson at Valhalla in 2011 and losing in a playoff at the Open Championship in 2009 at Turnberry at age 58; a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters in 1986; Hale Irwin, routinely, in Champions Tour majors; and Julius Boros winning the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years old are just a few.
But for the most part, there's no denying that sense of urgency to win a big one.
"I think there are windows," the 63-year-old Watson said. "You look at the great champions -- with a couple exceptions like Nicklaus and maybe Woods and Snead -- they all had their really, really productive years in a short period of time. Six or seven, eight years like that. With the exception of Woods and Nicklaus and Sam, they had, that's when their window of opportunity hits. It's the same way out here on the Champions Tour. The window is there. I've been lucky enough to win the Senior PGA a decade apart. That's been my last win out here. I hope it's not my last. But as I said in the ceremony, if it is my last, it's not a bad way to go out."
Watson may only be four years younger than Irwin, but he still looks up to the 67-year-old who is a four-time Senior PGA Champion and has three top-4 finishes in the last two years at Champions Tour majors.
“I've always been a great admirer of Hale,” Watson said of Irwin, who has a Champions Tour-record 45 victories -- all of which were recorded between 1995-2007. “He’s an amazing golfer, amazing performer out here. His run out here has been second to none. And I still think Hale could win out here. It's not a question. I think that Hale can win out here. I think age has very little to do with the capability of Hale Irwin. I always take time to go watch Hale swing the golf club because I think he swings the golf club beautifully and it helps me swinging my golf club. He doesn't come around watch me, but I go around watching him.”
As the body ages, there's a health factor that comes into play as well, explained Peter Jacobsen, a two-time major winner on the Champions Tour.
Injuries are no fun no matter your age, but they’re harder to bounce back from the older one gets.
"I think that you've got to be realistic with yourself," Jacobsen said. "As many starts and stops as I've had since I turned 50, with the injuries, like I said, I just enjoy being out here. I really love the game of golf. I love being inside the ropes and the interacting with the players and I continue to work on my golf swing. I'm always working on my swing, working on different technique, and I don't care how old we are, we can always learn something. And being involved with working in NBC and Golf Channel, when I'm out on the PGA Tour, I love to go out and watch the young guys practice and play and work, watch them hit chip shots and bunker shots, because I'm always trying to learn something from them."
Rocco Mediate, a rookie on the Champions Tour this season (which makes him chuckle every time someone mentions it), has his mind set on one thing on the eve of the Senior PGA Championship and it isn't to ponder how many years he has to pile up major trophies on the Champions Tour.
"Is there any urgency? No," Mediate said. "Don't believe in it. For me, it's the first fairway. That's all I care about tomorrow. I'm starting on the 10th hole. If I drive it in the fairway, it's time to go. If I don't, I've got to figure something out. There's no urgency. It's just another major. They're all the same. The golf course is a little harder, the rough's higher, it's awesome, it's long, it's what you want to have. I wish we had these every week."
Though Mediate doesn't agree -- and why would he? He's just a rookie -- the older a golfer gets the more the window closes. Physical abilities change, but expectations don't. Watson, for instance, couldn't be more excited about playing in his home state of Missouri this week.
"I'm going out there with the idea that I'm going to play the type of game that's going to get close enough to win this tournament," he said. "And whether physically I'll be able to do that, I don't know. But that's the attitude.
"I guess I've got a little Arnold Palmer attitude in me," Watson added. "Jack was talking about Arnold and said, 'you know, the great thing about Arnold, I love him to death,' he said, 'he still thinks he can do it. He still thinks he can do it. He goes out there and may not be able to, but he still thinks he can do it.' You better have a lot of that in you. It's not a bad thing to have and in fact it's a darn good thing to have in you. Because if you think you can't do it, you won't."