Star-Bulletin Sports

Saturday, January 26, 2002


Senior tour’s fab
foursome still swinging

Their games have changed,
but their passion hasn't

By Paul Arnett

WAILEA, Maui >> Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and Fuzzy Zoeller aren't as famous a foursome as the Beatles were decades ago, but they are show-stoppers just the same for the senior circuit.

The Wailea Resort was abuzz yesterday, looking more like an upscale retirement home, as the senior citizens descended on the gold course to get a look at the professional golfers of their day.

Preparing for this morning's Senior Skins, the foursome took part in a pro-am to test their swings for the $600,000 event that will be broadcast over two days on ABC-TV. The first 12 holes will be shown live today with the remaining six set for tomorrow on a tape-delayed basis. All 18 holes will be played today.

Palmer is the grand master of ceremonies. At 72, he is coming off an appearance at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to play in his 14th Senior Skins in 15 years. The only one he missed, in 1997, was because of prostate cancer.

"My approach is always to win as many skins as I can," Palmer said. "My outlook is better now than in recent years because I have been working hard on some things that I think will help me on the course. I think the course sets up well for us and I am hoping to get off to a fast start."

Palmer has pocketed 40 skins worth a shade more than $1 million and is third behind Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, who is not taking part in this year's made-for-TV event. Nicklaus has 51 skins and $1.3 million in earnings for this 18-hole show. In 1991, he rolled in an eagle putt on the third playoff hole worth $285,000.

A bad back landed Nicklaus in the rough several months ago. He hasn't played competitively since last summer and isn't sure what to expect this weekend.

"It's been a long time since I played in a competition," Nicklaus said. "I think the last time was in the British Senior Open. But I've been working at it and I think I'm going to have a good time. Wailea is a nice course, not extremely difficult, and is well-suited for us old guys. The course will keep everybody in the match."

The first six holes will be worth $20,000 apiece. That moves up to $30,000 on the next six, $40,000 for holes 13 through 17 and $100,000 on the 18th. If recent history holds true, Irwin will be the man to beat.

Last year, he won seven skins and $320,000. He pocketed the final six skins and $180,000 with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Nicklaus, who finished second with 10 skins and $260,000, could have won if he had missed a four-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.

If Nicklaus had let it slide by the hole, Gary Player would have won the six skins, giving Nicklaus the crown. Instead, he forced a playoff and lost to Irwin on the first extra hole.

"I liked that putt you made at the last hole, that was really good," Irwin said, then smiled.

Nicklaus responded in true Golden Bear style, "I couldn't miss one on purpose. I just couldn't do that to you or anybody else. This year, hopefully the putt will be to win and not to give Mr. Irwin a chance to win."

Irwin countered, "That's fine, Jack, you did a wonderful job last year."

Irwin then reflected on his recent run of Senior Skins success. He finished second in 1998, first in 1999, skipped 2000 and finished first again last year to earn 25 combined skins and $920,000.

"It's always a delight," Irwin said. "Last year was probably the most exciting skins that I had the opportunity to be involved in. It came down to that last hole, where Jack could have been a nice guy and made it, and he did.

"The Senior Skins is a wide-open deal. You have to be fortunate at the right time. Knowing the player Jack is, it didn't surprise me that he knocked it in. Then I won all the marbles."

Zoeller will be trying to land a few of his own in his first Senior Skins appearance.

"I am looking forward to it," Zoeller said. "What a beautiful group I get to play with. I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world playing with these three fine gentlemen and I get to talk to them. I'm already starting to rip Arnold about his Michael Jordan look over there, no socks. I think it's a great golf course and should be good for a skins format."

As for Palmer, he's not ready to hang up his spikes just yet.

"I'm here, unless something unforeseen happens, as long as they invite me I will play," said Palmer, who is the elder statesman of this fab four. "There's only one thing for sure right now. I'm going to die one of these days somewhere down the line, and I hope it isn't too soon."

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