Boss from the Moss a late bloomer
Loren Roberts didn't win a PGA Tour event until age 38
Loren Roberts isn't one of those golfers you draft first in a fantasy league.
There may be a hundred names who come to mind over the last half-century before you think of the Boss from the Moss. He's one of those obscure golfers who fought to keep his card for years -- he went to Q-school five times between 1980 and 1987 -- before realizing a potential that was there all along.
In that time of self-doubt in the mid-1980s, the legendary Cary Middlecoff said of Roberts, "We've got a kid back home (in Tennessee) who is just a beautiful putter. He'll just break your heart on the greens, he's so pure. If he ever gets to believing in himself, he could really be something to watch."
That belief didn't arrive in a timely fashion.
Roberts joined the tour in 1981, making only eight of 21 cuts. His cash flow that year? A cool $8,935, good enough for No. 177 on the money list. He played in only two events the following year, before surviving eight of 24 cuts in 1983, when he earned $7,724. He finished No. 189 on tour with a flight pattern that remained under the radar for another decade.
Not until 1994, at the ripe, old age of 38, did Roberts emerge from his own shadow to win the Nestle Invitational. In that same year, Roberts tied for fifth at the Masters and for second at the U.S. Open, when he lost to Ernie Els on the 20th hole of a playoff. He also had his third top-10 finish of the year in a major two months later, tying for ninth at the PGA Championship.
Roberts said on Friday that if he had any regrets, it was not winning that U.S. Open or finishing strong enough at the 2000 Masters, when he tied for third at the event won by Vijay Singh. It was his smooth style on the greens that kept this Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo graduate, who has called Tennessee home for years, in tune with his longer-hitting brethren of the PGA Tour.
In 1995, Roberts won the Nestle Invitational again, becoming the first player since Calvin Peete in 1979 and 1982 to secure his first two tour victories at the same event. Roberts won twice in 1996 and twice more in 1999 en route to eight tour victories after turning 38, a somewhat dubious distinction.
Roberts describes his career as nice. He played on the Ryder Cup team in 1995, posting a 3-1 mark at Oak Hill. He broke Hale Irwin's tournament record by one stroke at the MCI Classic. His third-round 63 led to a 265-finish, a number he matched at the Greater Milwaukee Open that same year, beating hometown favorite Jerry Kelly in a playoff.
This is not a man without PGA Tour accomplishments. His $64,260 earned for finishing in a tie for 18th at the Sony Open in Hawaii three weeks ago lifted him over the $15 million mark in tour career earnings by $20,508.
When told of this fact during Friday's opening round of the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai, his response was a small smile and that twinkle you could still find in his eye as he left Hawaii with $515,000 of Champions Tour money late Sunday night.
When Don Pooley asked him if he'd be interested in a $3 million home on the North Shore of Oahu, Roberts balked at the idea. Remember, it took him a little more than eight years to earn what he did in three weeks in Hawaii.
He hasn't forgotten that fact as he returned to his Tennessee home Sunday night to ponder his immediate future.
The next tournament on his radar screen will either be the Champions Tour event in Florida or the Nissan Open in Los Angeles on the regular tour. If he stays this hot, who does he want to compete against? Can he challenge or even win the Ace Group Classic against men his own age? Or does he try his hand versus the young guns at Nissan, near his old stomping grounds in California?
Last year's event there was cut short to two rounds because of rain.
Roberts said he will spend the next couple of weeks watching the weather reports. If bad weather is headed to California, then look for Roberts to remain on the Champions Tour for the next few weeks. He could also skip the events in Florida, play in the Nissan Open on the regular tour, then return to the senior set with the AT&T Classic in Valencia, Calif., the following week.
When you're putting as well as Roberts has been the last three tournaments, you don't want to lose that touch taking too much time off.
Even though he didn't make a birdie in the final round at Sunday's Turtle Bay Championship, the flat stick is still his best friend.
"To be honest with you, the name of my game is my putting, all right?" Roberts said. "If I'm putting well, then it frees up the whole rest of my game. If I get a little off, out of sync with the putter, sometimes the rest of my game is going to struggle a little bit, too. That's just the way I am because that's the meat of my game."
It all came back to him with that eagle putt at the 54th hole from 9 feet to secure the Turtle Bay Championship. His two wins in Hawaii assure him of returning to the island chain next year. He won't forget those final three shots at the 18th on Sunday to hold off Scott Simpson.
"When I got down there (after his drive through the fairway) I had a little time to think about it," Roberts said when asked how he felt about letting his four-shot lead slip away. "When I tried to tell myself it was OK, instead of looking at squandering the lead, I tried to tell myself you have the opportunity to really do something great here.
"I had a perfect number. I had 180 to carry, 199 to the hole. It was just a perfect number for a 4-iron downwind for me. It came out perfect, it had perfect fade to it, just slide-right-in-there perfect. It landed just right. I knew I just needed to hit a nice, good solid 4-iron. It should carry the front edge and be perfect."
And it was.
How long it remains that way is the question Roberts ponders most of all.