BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – So this was last weekend. Miguel Angel Jimenez had just won his first senior major title at the Regions Tradition, and his Sunday evening plans were clear. “We’re going to have a big party.” The pops that came next were champagne bottles.
Four days later – hardly time enough for the victory cigar smoke to clear – he’s teeing it up at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Another major, quicker than you can ask how far it is from Birmingham to Benton Harbor.
Welcome to the PGA TOUR Champions. Come this time of year, the Bermuda grass doesn’t grow beneath these guys’ feet. The Champions schedules its majors like grapes --in bunches. Three of the five will come in July, with a bye week between each. But the first two – the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship – go back-to-back this month.
There’s something they didn’t see as young men on the PGA Tour -- majors lined up like dominoes.
“Definitely different, but I love it,” Rocco Mediate was saying.
“I woke up this morning and thought `Damn, it’s Tuesday already. I’ve got to tee it up on Thursday morning,” Gene Sauers mentioned. “I don’t have any time to work on a lot of stuff.
“It’s tough, but it’s OK. It is what it is.”
Yep, that’s the general sentiment. It’s been this way for several years, but the schedule compression might seem a tad more jarring this time because of the weather difference. They’ve gone from steamy Alabama directly to being able to see their breaths at Tuesday’s practice rounds, with a dose of early spring coming off Lake Michigan just up the street. “I know that I played 18 holes today,” Jerry Kelly said, “but I saw about six of them through the fog.”
So they adapt, like golfers do.
Mediate, for instance. He won here two years ago.
“It’s hard but it shouldn’t be that hard. They’re long weeks, but . . . it’s just golf. I know we’re older but I’m still in plenty good enough shape to do this stuff. But if I get back into contention, yeah it’ll be (tough), but you’re ready to do this. That’s what you want to feel."
Or Duffy Waldorf, who was in the chase last weekend with two closing 66s.
“I think you just look at it as kind of the majors season. On the regular PGA Tour, it’s nicely laid out with a month between them all. The Champions Tour, you just learn that when’s the season here, it’s time to be on. If you can time it right, it actually works out better, because if you’re playing well, it’s easier to go play well the next week than wait another month. You’re just trying to peak at the right time.”
Or Colin Montgomerie, who has won two Senior PGA titles, including one here.
“Very easy indeed,” he said of rebooting emotions so quickly. “It gives us a golden opportunity, and opportunity is everything. Without opportunity, where are we?”
Or Tom Lehman, who won the Senior PGA in 2010.
“I can’t imagine too many guys who played last week playing here (Monday). I know I took the day off because you want to conserve energy. These are big weeks. Majors are big deals.”
Or Kelly, who has been on a roll this season.
“I was getting tuned up last week as the temperature hit 90. Once I got back to 53 and cold and blowing, significantly a lot more tuning to do now. Last week felt a little more like a regular season. This definitely kicks it up a notch.
“It’s not causal golf out here. We’re trying to beat each other’s brains in
He has consistently come close at past senior majors, so last Sunday was deliverance. “It’s time isn’t it? To have one in the pocket,” he said Wednesday.
Yeah, he’s known for his wine and his cigars and his ponytail, but what could never be missed is his passion for the game. “To me, it’s not only my way to make a living, it’s a way of life. To me, golf is everything,” he said.
(Which is why, when someone asked Wednesday what a first Ryder Cup is like, he grabbed a chunk of that ample hair and held it straight in the air to explain the nerves. That’s a lot of hair to be standing on end, but any man who has ever played in a Ryder Cup would understand.)
For a guy whose heart might as well be dimpled, so deep is his love for golf, having the juice to go major to major is no issue. Even if, as he put it, the aftermath of winning a major often means “a little bit too much moving around.
“But I’ve been hitting it good and I played very solid last week. I felt very confident, and I feel the same this week.”
Besides, it doesn’t take much of a walk down memory lane to see that winning back-to-back majors can be done. Bernhard Langer pulled off the sweep of these two tournaments last year. Getting handed two major championship trophies in eight days -- the young studs on the regular tour have never known that feeling.
Langer was 11th in Birmingham and won’t win this week. Guaranteed, he won’t. But then, he has a pretty good reason.
“The only way he’s not going to win is if he goes to his son’s graduation,” Mediate said. Which Langer is. So he has no shot.
“You can’t ever say that about him,” Mediate said, “unless he’s not here.”
The guys who are here pulling major championship double duty will have to hit the refresh button in time to take on Harbor Shores, which has become the even-numbered year home to the Senior PGA. The Jack Nicklaus layout has huge greens that are about 75 percent trouble. The course record has already been set this week for use of the word “quadrant.” As in, hit the approach shot to the correct quadrant of the green.
“The what?” Jimenez said when someone mentioned the word.
Quadrant. The place where a man wants to putt. Oh, he understood. “The greens, we’re going to get sick here, there are so many humps and things on the middle of the greens that you need to be below," he said.
Or as Mediate put it, “This one is evil in a good way, I like to say. You have to have it here or it’ll show that you don’t, quick. And that’s what I like about major championships, anyway. But this course is especially good at doing that.”
Should be a demanding week. Just like last week. No rest for the over-50 set, starting with the new major champion holding his hair in the air.
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