Champions Tour Fills Hole In Three-Decade Career
As the PGA Tour Champions begins its 40th season this week at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in Hawaii, it starts with at least two recurring themes.
The first is Bernhard Langer, the seemingly ageless master of the over-50 golf universe, who has shown no hint he’s slowing down now that he’s in his 60s.
The second theme centers on, in effect, everyone else.
For decades, the Champions tour was built on the participation and success of superstars. What started with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer was handed over to Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino. Then it was Hale Irwin and Tom Watson. Jay Haas and Fred Couples have had their moments.
Now, though Langer carries the torch, the tour belongs to a group of former PGA Tour players who had good but not great careers. Their faces and their swings are familiar but, for the most part, their Tour careers were more solid than sizzle.
Scott McCarron is one of those guys and he’s loving it.
He spent years playing against Jerry Kelly, David Toms, Woody Austin, Tim Petrovic, Paul Goydos, Joe Durant and Kirk Triplett. Now they’re doing it again – with smaller fields and no cuts.
The stars still come out but Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Steve Stricker pick their spots, preferring to play against the young guys as long as they can.
For McCarron, who has won eight times in three-plus years on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, it’s a chance to fill holes left empty on the other tour.
“I feel exactly the same way as I did when I was trying to win on the PGA Tour. I’m playing against the same guys and, in some cases, on the same courses. It’s fun,” said McCarron, who won three Tour events before an elbow injury shut him down in 2006.
“If you play well, you can get in position to win more often. It’s a numbers game, 78 versus 156 players. For guys like myself who had an OK career but feel like they should have won more or have been better in majors, this is a chance to do that.”
McCarron is one of those guys who counted down the days until he turned 50. Last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Stricker said he’ll play more on the PGA Tour than the Champions because that’s what he wants to do.
“The end of my career was not what I wanted. I had big changes in my life and I wanted to hit the ground running when I was 50.” – Scott McCarron
“The Champions tour is always going to be there for me which is the way I’m looking at it,” said Stricker, who expects to play seven Champions events this year.
McCarron, meanwhile, intends to play every event on the schedule. He still averages 295 yards off the tee, he adjusted well to the anchoring ban and ranked 22nd in putting average last year. It’s like a new life for him.
Having moved from Southern California to just north of Charlotte, N.C., a year ago, McCarron is thriving.
“A lot of hard work goes into it. You can’t just waltz out there and think you can win. I worked my butt off from 48 to 50 to get ready,” McCarron said.
His career was sidetracked due to a detached tendon in his right elbow in 2006. McCarron had surgery and missed the 2007 season. He did television work including stints with Golf Channel, Fox Sports and DirecTV.
“It was tough. The end of my career was not what I wanted. I had a lot of time to think about what I would do differently,” McCarron said.
“I had big changes in my life and I wanted to hit the ground running when I was 50.”
After working for years with swing coach Jim Hardy, McCarron switched to E.A. Tischler prior to turning 50, focusing on his biomechanics and getting back to what he feels is his natural golf motion, something from which he had strayed.
“It’s like he got another lease on his career, another chance, another opportunity. That’s what’s so cool about the Champions tour,” Stricker said.
Love remembers McCarron asking him for a sponsor spot in the RSM Classic, looking for a playing opportunity before he turned 50. It’s the behind-the-scenes reality of Tour golf.
“He didn’t look like he was a Champions tour guy. But there are a lot of guys like that who once they get a chance and they know they’re going to play every week, it takes the pressure off a little bit,” Love said.
“They start putting better and get on a roll. It’s been amazing. I knew he was going to do well but I honestly didn’t think he was going to be dominating like he is now.”
McCarron has won one senior major, the 2017 Senior Players, and he finished second in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup last year. With a chance to win the $1 million prize, McCarron double-bogeyed the 17th hole in the final round of the final tournament, ruining his hopes.
On the 18th tee, McCarron’s caddie told him a birdie at the finishing hole would give him second place in the Schwab Cup while a par might drop him to fifth. McCarron made a closing birdie – and it made a $460,000 difference.
“That’s why you play, to get that feeling of being in the hunt,” McCarron said.
Chris DiMarco and Darren Clarke are new to the senior tour and Retief Goosen will turn 50 on Feb. 3. McCarron thinks they will love their new life much like he does.
Playing in a pro-am hosted by Jack Nicklaus, McCarron was struck by something Nicklaus told him.
“He pulled me aside and said one thing he regretted was he didn’t play the Champions tour more. He said he missed it,” McCarron said.
“For him to say that, it’s one of those things that you don’t miss until it’s too late. I hope he tells other guys that.”
Scott McCarron during the final round of last year’s Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Photo: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
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