CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | They come at the senior arena from different angles … Loren Roberts, the defending champion in last week’s Senior Open championship at Carnoustie, is a player who moved seamlessly from the regular Tour to the Champions Tour. England’s Carl Mason, on the other hand, took a six-year break from the competitive scene before embarking on his second coming.
In these instances, both ways worked, with Roberts bagging the majors he never had before and Mason winning 23 senior titles as against the two he battened down on the main circuit.
Roberts said that there was never any question of his needing any breathing space. “I’ve always felt passionate about playing golf and, when it was time for the Champions Tour, I was itching to get out there and to be successful. Also, the fact that I’d kept playing gave me the feeling that I was properly prepared.” (Only three years before his 50th birthday, he had won the Valero Texas Open.)
Mason, for his part, was at the end of his tether after 25 years on the European Tour. Anyone who wins once, let alone twice, in Europe has not exactly failed but Mason had stopped enjoying himself. “I can’t tell you,” he said, “how much I needed time away from it all.”
In the case of the former, he very quickly decided that he did not like having to take instructions – wrong instructions in his opinion – from above. He preferred to be his own boss. As for the refereeing, he found it a thoroughly worthwhile experience, not to mention one which set him thinking.
There were times when he would look at the seniors to whom he was dispensing free drops and penalty shots and say to himself, “I could hold my own with this little lot. Taking that break was the best thing I ever did. It made me think about what I wanted from the rest of my life.”
In the second half of those six years, Mason started practising in a very different way to how he had practised before. When he had been playing week-in, week-out, he had never dared to experiment for fear of upsetting what he had. Now, he revelled in trying this and that. “I started hitting the ball really well and by the time I was 50, I was simply bursting at the seams to play again,” he said.
Because of all that practice, he soon discovered that he was as long as he ever was vis-à-vis his rivals. At the same time, his confidence was soaring, thanks not least to the fact that he got off on the right foot. In what was only his second week out, he won the Bad Ragaz PGA Senior Open in Switzerland.
No less than anyone else, he marvels at the difference between the old Carl Mason and the new. In truth, there have been countless occasions over the last few years when he has looked at himself and asked, “Why couldn’t you have been like you are now when you were on the regular tour?”
In his 20s, 30s and 40s, he had struggled to cope with “the nervy feeling” that is part and parcel of being in contention. Yet once he was among the older hands he started to crave that kind of tension. “I began to feel how you are meant to feel in these circumstances. I was enjoying the pressure, making it work for me.”
The 55-year-old Roberts will tell you that he, too, has developed in recent years as opposed to merely hanging on to what he had.
He made the further point that shorter courses and shorter rough enable everyone to hit greens on a more regular basis – something which in itself makes putting a more important part of the equation. Roberts has also picked up on patience since turning 50. This, he suspects, is down to a new level of contentment.
In his last 10 years alongside Tiger Woods and the rest on the PGA Tour, he had been conscious of how the players of his vintage were dropping away all the time. Now he is back among old friends and closer to them. They socialise more than they ever did before, with Roberts’ impression along the lines that the Champions Tour has more in common with the European Tour and its senior counterpart than the PGA Tour environment.