TURTLE BAY CHAMPIONSHIP
Hale Irwin has won nearly $4 million in Hawaii throughout his career, which has included eight wins here in PGA or Champions tour events.
Isles make Irwin win
The aloha spirit fuels the success of the five-time defending champion at Turtle Bay
Hale Irwin isn't sure what his formula for success in Hawaii has been over the last 25 years. And even if he did, it's not a secret he would share willingly with any of his fellow members on the Champions Tour.
Dating back to the 1981 Hawaiian Open -- when a victory on the PGA Tour was worth $58,500 -- right through last year's fifth consecutive win at the Turtle Bay Championship that earned him $225,000, Irwin has compiled quite a record in the island chain.
Eight times he has landed in the winner's circle for PGA and Champions tour events, including the 1997 MasterCard title at Hualalai. If you get out your calculator and punch in all the numbers, including wins at the Senior Skins in 1999, 2001 and 2002, Irwin has earned $3.89 million in Hawaii.
Gov. Linda Lingle should invite him over to her home for a free meal, when considering how much money Irwin has paid in taxes here over the last quarter-century. Not that he's counting. When you've earned $28.5 million since joining the senior circuit in 1995, not to mention the nearly $6 million he made on the PGA Tour, money is no longer the object.
Adding hardware to the trophy case is what it's all about these days for the 60-year-old who calls Arizona home. He has 44 victories on the Champions Tour, another 20 on the PGA Tour, seven majors with the old guys and three U.S. Open titles, including one in 1990 when he was 45.
And how does winning the same event an unheard-of five consecutive times fit in the grand scheme of things? Ask him Sunday if he makes it six straight.
"The streak is something I'm very proud of, certainly, but again, I've put that behind me," Irwin said. "That's for you guys to write and for me not to think about. Because once you start thinking about the past and the laurels of the past, then you forget about the future. And the immediate problems that confront me right now is I've got to perform better than I did last week at MasterCard.
"I just got lapped. I shoot 10 under par and get beat by 15 strokes. If somebody would have asked me if I went and averaged 64 every day a round at Hualalai and still lose, I'd say you're crazy. But that just indicates the kind of play that's going on out here on the Champions Tour."
But seriously, Mr. Irwin, what do you and this Arnold Palmer-designed course have in common? Why do you see things so well here and what are the keys to winning the same event so many times? He thought about it for a moment and gave an honest appraisal of what needs to be done to win again.
"Certainly, there's carryover from previous years as it might be on any course that you've played well or won on," Irwin said. "But the more important issue is to take what I've got currently and work on that or work with that to try to play this week, because as we stand on this tee, we're seeing a golf course that's very wet. I think we're going to have the trades blowing most of the week.
"So, with that in mind, I need to work on things, fundamental things that will help me play this week and not rely on the past. I think I've had success around here in the wind. I'm not afraid to play the course in the wind. But what these conditions do is it makes the course longer.
"And it makes those longer holes that are playing back into the wind that much more difficult. In the past, the success I've had here has been I've played those holes, those very difficult holes; I won't say I''ve played them under par, but I've played them safely, I've played them conservatively because you can make a big score on this course if you get the ball going sideways into the water."
That's the technical side to the question for success. But there's also a spiritual side of things that Irwin talks about, but doesn't try to define. Science is one thing, geometry another and judging wind and how it affects the ball perhaps the most important skill of all.
But there's more to it than that. Irwin has some connection here that would be better explained on the "X Files" than on the Science Channel. He knows that and tries to tap in to that special place whenever he can.
"I've said this before and there's got to be something to it, certainly, is that I've been coming to Hawaii for a long time," Irwin said. "And the relationship I've had with this state has been sort of a long, running, friendly environment, one of which I kind of buy into.
"Say what you want to about the spirit of Hawaii and its people, perhaps I feel some of that, perhaps I feel part of that. It's an environment which seems to do well with me. You know I can take these same conditions and go to Florida, and I don't feel the same way. We play with Bermuda (grass) in Florida. We play in the wind in Florida. We play in the rain in Florida. But we don't have the people in Florida. And I think there's something to that."
Therein lies the formula. Just don't ask Dana Scully to explain it when Fox Mulder would do better.