Sports Watch

Bill Kwon

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, January 21, 1999

Senior Tour has
been a big success

IN 1980, Hale Irwin was still basking in the glory of his second U.S. Open victory, beating Gary Player by two strokes at Inverness the previous summer of June, 1979.

Irwin not very long after began an association with the Kapalua Resort on Maui as its PGA touring pro after winning the Hawaiian Open in 1981. He was to win yet a third U.S. Open in 1990.

Don't go feeling sorry for Gary Player.

Twenty years ago, he had already won the Masters and British Open three times, the PGA Championship twice and the U.S. Open. He's only one of four golfers to win all four majors.

Twenty years ago, Gil Morgan was going on 32 with four PGA Tour victories and a bank account good enough to put his doctorate in optometry on hold. It's still on hold.

In 1980, Jim Colbert won the Tucson Open -- his first tour victory in six years -- after recovering from severe back pains that hampered his golf career.

And in 1980, in a landmark meeting on Jan. 16, a bunch of good ol' boys who played the game of golf very well -- including Sam Snead, Don January and the late Dan Sikes -- laid the formal groundwork for what has become maybe the most amazing success story in sports -- the PGA Senior Tour.

January won one of the two events that year. After that, the Senior Tour simply took off. It helped when Arnold Palmer turned 50 and added his eclat. Arnie's Army re-upped.

NOW, in the 20th year of the Senior Tour, Morgan and Colbert are reaping its benefits -- truly sports' ultimate money machine.

Last year, Irwin won more money ($2.89 million) in a single season than any other golfer. Morgan pocketed $2.1 million. Colbert enjoyed three $1-million seasons, including back-to-back money titles in 1995-'96 before being laid low by prostate cancer in 1997.

The senior dash for cash starts again tomorrow with the MasterCard Championship at the Hualalai Resort Golf Course on the Kailua-Kona Coast with Morgan defending his title.

Colbert knows that Irwin and Morgan have raised the bar in the level of play. It'll be even higher when Tom Watson, who makes no bones about playing on the Senior Tour when he turns 50 this Sept. 4, joins the league.

"I've got to raise my game. What I did before, that's not good enough anymore," Colbert said.

There was doubt after his bout with cancer, he admitted.

"You just never know. When you don't win, it creates doubt," said Colbert, who finally broke through with a very emotional victory in the Transamerica last October for his first victory in two years.

"There was a sense of relief, to tell you the truth. There's excitement when you're playing but, mostly, it was relief."

THEN the feeling of satisfaction that he was back.

"It's a very personal thing to know that you beat the league. Then it's satisfying."

The biological clock ticks loudly on the Senior Tour. There is a perception that you've got to make hay from 50 to 55, because after that you just can't keep up with the "young kids" coming over from the other tour.

Colbert, who'll be 58 in March, doesn't buy it.

"Everyone's in better shape and condition these days. No one's convinced me that I can't play at this level because of my age, certainly, not my dedication," he said.

"Gary (Player) won a tournament at 62. When I went over to congratulate him, he told me, 'Well, wait. I'm going to win one in the year 2000. That way I'll win a tournament in six different decades,'" Colbert said.

"And he was serious."

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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