Planet Golf — 22 August 2013 by Jim Street
Rookies making their Champions mark

SNOQUALMIE, Wa. — The current crop of Champions Tour rookies is among the best in tour history, and there still is plenty of time remaining this season for this group to reach the top.

Going into The Boeing Classic, which begins Friday at TPC Snoqualmie, there have been four 50-year-old winners so far this season – just one short of the single-season record shared by rookie classes in 1989, ‘99 and 2007 — with nine events remaining.

“This is a great group of guys,” Charles Schwab Cup points leader Kenny Perry said on Thursday. “They bring a lot of firepower, a lot (of) notoriety.”

The rookie victory parade of 2013 started the first week of February when Rocco Mediate made his Champions Tour debut a winning one, capturing the Allianz Championship in Bacon Raton, Fla. Lesser-known Estaban Toledo won the Insperity Championships in Houston the first week of May, Japan’s Kohki Idoki, playing his first tournament on American soil, stunned the golfing world by
winning the Senior PGA Championship, and Bart Bryant became the fourth first-year winner at last week’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Open.

Rocco Mediate won in his Champions debut

Rocco Mediate won in his Champions debut

A four-time winner on the Champions Tour, including two this year – The Seniors Players championship and U.S. Senior Open – Perry (rookie class of 2010) realizes that the quality of incoming players is increasing from year to year with no end in sight.

“The next few years you’re going to see this Tour really taking off,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of guys coming out with a lot of career money and you’re going to see a rollover affect a little bit. The golf is just going to keep getting stronger and stronger out here.”

Whereas the vast majority of professional golfers count the days before celebrating their 50th birthday, just so they can join the Champions Tour, Vijay Singh, who turned 50 on Feb. 22, has yet to make his debut.

Mediate surely is the most recognizable among the first-year winners so far this year, but keep an eye of some others, such as Colin Montgomerie and Steve Elkington. Both are entered in the Boeing Classic, along with Idoki and Toledo.

Others are: Jeff Brehaut, Rick Fehr, Anders Forsbrand, Doug Garwood, Brian Henninger,  John Inman, Neal Lancaster, John Riegger, Lance Ten Broeck.

Although Gene Sauers and Duffy Waldorf played in last year’s Boeing Classic, they are still rookies on the tour because they have played fewer than six Champions Tour events.

“Elk is a major winner (PGA Championship in 1995) and Colin is an eight-time or whatever European money Order of Merit winner,” Perry added. “I actually played with him Monty last week and had a great time with him. He’s a super guy.”

Montgomery has won a record eight Order of Merit titles, including a streak of seven consecutively from 1993 to 1999. He has won 31 European Tour events, the most of any British player, placing him fourth on the all time list of golfers with most European Tour victories.

Monty, who turned 50 on June 23, has two top 10 finishes in the five events he has played and ranks 35th on the Charles Schwab Cup points list. Elkington has four top 10s and is 29th on the points list.

It probably is just a matter of time before either one of them wins on the Champions Tour.

“Elk, who’s a great, great player, has been (competitive) every week,” Seattle native and Boeing Classic favorite Fred Couples said. “And now, Colin Montgomerie. These are top players that played on the regular tour and fought in majors, won majors and know how to play.

“I honestly believe this Tour is really strong, a sharp Tour, and really fun.”

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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