Shorter course helps record five players over 50 in The Players Championship field

By Garry Smits
Published on
Shorter course helps record five players over 50 in The Players Championship field

Age is just a number.

So is driving distance, when it comes to The Players Championship.

When the tournament begins on Thursday at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, there will be a record five members of PGA Tour Champions in the field: Bernard Langer, Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker and David Toms.

There also will be 26 players in all who are 40 years or older.

At least two of those 50-and-over players are feeling feisty about their chances, knowing they don't have to keep up with the younger, stronger players such as Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Jason Day on the Stadium Course.

"The last two years, I've been in very good position going into the weekend on this golf course," said Kelly, 50, who shared the 36-hole lead in 2015 and was tied for sixth at the halfway point last year. "Fred Funk won here at 48 years old, and my game is better at 50, not worse. Age is not a measuring stick of your golfing ability."

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Stricker missed last year's tournament but as recently as 2014, tied for 13th.

"I'm excited to be back here and I'm excited to play," he said. "I feel very good, physically."

The impressive thing about the players who are 50 and older is that four of the five earned their way into the tournament by finishing among the top-125 on last year's FedEx Cup points list. Langer is in the field through the exemption created in 2007 for the winner of the Constellation Energy Senior Players.

The previous record for the most PGA Tour Champions members in the field was three, which happened six times.

"I'm not surprised," said Kelly. "The one thing I found out on the Champions Tour is that those guys can still play."

Although Funk's landmark victory was 12 years ago, at least one graybeard has pushed his way onto the weekend leaderboard in recent Players Championships.

At the age of 47 last year, Ken Duke shot 65, the low round of the day during a brutally difficult Saturday, and eventually tied for third behind Day.

In 2015, Kelly, 48 at the time, entered the final round only two shots off the lead, before a closing 74 that dropped him into a tie for 17th.

Jim Furyk, days before his 44th birthday in 2014, had the clubhouse lead before Martin Kaymer parred his last two holes to win by one shot.

Jeff Maggert, two months after turning 50 in 2013, shot 66-70 on the weekend and finished in a tie for second, two shots behind winner Tiger Woods.

Would be a stretch to imagine one of the PGA Tour Champions members winning this week? Perhaps, especially considering a member of the 50 and over Tour has won on the PGA Tour only three times: Davis Love III at the 2015 Wyndham Championship; Funk at the 2007 OHL Classic at Mayakoba; and Craig Stadler at the 2003 B.C. Open.

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The good news is that the relatively short course (7,215 yards) and numerous dogleg fairways doesn't allow the long hitters to overpower it, thereby bringing the older players who have lost some pop off the tee potentially into the mix.

Bombers have won, to be sure. The last two winners, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, both broke the field driving distance record for the tournament and Day (311.6 yards per measured drive) was the first Players winner to top 300 yards on the average.

Other Players winners have been Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Davis Love III, Greg Norman and Fred Couples, among the longest hitters of their generations.

But Funk, Tom Kite, Justin Leonard, Tim Clark and K.J. Choi, more accurate than long, have also won.

"Any time there's a golf course that doesn't need power, it's nice to come there because you know you have a chance," said Rod Pampling, 47.

"The whole gamut of games have won here," Stricker said. "You don't need to overpower the course. You can plod your way around and hit fairways and good irons shots into these tiny greens, and just hang around."

Kelly said his driving accuracy actually enables him to hit further tee shots than some players who are certifiably longer from point A to point B.

The Stadium Course fairways don't always allow that.

"Straight distance doesn't help on a lot of these fairways, and being as straight as I am, I can hit it further than the long hitters because I can squeeze it up there in an area they have to keep short of," he said. 

This article is written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to