Planet Golf — 23 August 2012 by Jim Street
Waldorf ready for next stage of career

SNOQUALMIE, Wa. – Unlike most of us, a professional golfer can feel old one day and just a couple days later feel much younger than he really is.

This “fountain of youth” is called the Champions Tour and four-time PGA Tour winner Duffy Waldorf is one of two players experiencing the feeling this week for the first time.

On Sunday, Duffy was 49 years old, the oldest player in the field at the Web.com (the predominately 20-something tour formerly known as the Nationwide) event in Overland Park, Kansas, and finished in a tie for 11th place. He earned $11,275, increasing his career earnings to $11,873,941.

On Monday, Waldorf celebrated his 50th birthday and on Friday he’ll be the second-youngest player (by two days) in a field of 81 players competing in the three-day, 54-hole Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.

“It’s the most celebrated birthday of my life,” said Duffy of turning the big “5-0”. “I feel a lot younger. I won’t be the shortest hitter in the room.”

Waldorf and Gene Sauers, who turned 50 on Wednesday, are the new kids on the Champions Tour block this week, making their 50-and-over debuts at the difficult, hilly course located east of Seattle.

“There has been some anxiousness to it, but you know, it kind of varies,” Duffy said of the buildup for his Champions Tour debut.  “When you are playing well out there on the regular tour and Web.com Tour, you don’t even think about the Champions Tour.

“There are so many positives out here,” he added. “It will be nice to be in a cart when I need it and not have to shoot 2 under par to make the cut.”

As for his expectations:

“I am looking forward to seeing if I’m competitive on the Champions Tour,” he said. “It’s like a fresh start. You get to play new courses against new competition, so I am looking forward to testing my game out here. Hopefully I will be able to settle in.”

The UCLA product said he physically is feeling “pretty good” right now and is ready to begin the next chapter of a golfing career that includes PGA Tour victories at the Texas Open (1995 and ‘99), Buick Classic (‘99), and the Disney Classic (2000).

Duffy Waldorf birdies No. 9 in Pro-Am

“My health has really turned around the past year and a half,” Duffy said, referring to knee surgery three years ago. “My game has turned around the past year, so everything has been good.”

Good enough to win the Boeing?

“Well, anything is possible,” he said. “I think I have a chance to win, but I have to play my best to do it.”

The California born-and-bred Waldorf has split his playing time this year on the PGA and Web.com tours. He has played in 10 regular-tour events, making the cut eight times, has two top-25 finishes and earned $174,433. He also has played in nine Web.com tournaments, made five cuts, has one second-place finish and ranks 38th on the money list with $92,515.

Next up: The Champions Tour.

“I am sure Duffy is looking forward to it, as I was, and just as Gene Sauers is probably looking forward to it,” defending champion Mark Calcavecchia said. “They have both been through a lot physically, especially Gene, who almost died (from a rare and painful skin condition called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome).

“Duffy had two or three knee surgeries and didn’t play for a couple of years. He probably has been looking forward to this for quite a while. He will be a little nervous at first. I remember my first tee shot two years ago. I was a little nervous. Once they get out there, they will be fine.

“A lot of people don’t like to turn 50,” Calcavecchia added. “For us, we look forward to it.”

I asked Seattle native Fred Couples, the best golfer the Emerald City has ever produced, what Duffy has to look forward to on the Champions Tour.

“Well, making more money than he’s made in the last few yours, I promise you that,” he quipped.

True enough. The top prize at the Boeing Classic is $300,000. First place at the Web.com event last week was worth $99,000.

But the Champions Tour offers more than money.

Duffy signs autograph for a young fan

“I enjoy the pairings I have,” Couples said. “Every week I get Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Nick Price. Who else? You know, the guys I played with my whole life on (the PGA Tour). Now I get to play them every Friday at least.

“So Duffy has a lot of that to look forward to, but really, it just gives you life. At one time, I thought, ‘Well, once you hit 45 to 50, maybe there’s a little window for some of us to play somewhere.’ No one ever believed that, so you wait until you’re 50.

“I don’t know where he’s played much and I know he’s been injured. But Duffy is a good friend and he’ll do very, very well out here, barring his knees and everything else. He’s a great guy .”

Waldorf said the key for him this weekend is to reach a point where he feels comfortable on the course. As of Wednesday, he wasn’t quite there.

“Usually, you have played the course a few times and know what shots you can make and those you can’t,” he said. “I have played this course twice, a practice round on Tuesday and today’s Pro-Am. I feel there are a quite a few shots on this course that are uncomfortable just because they are pretty challenging. There are some confrontational shots, where you have to carry a hazard, or go for stuff. I am still unsure of how I want to play some holes.

“I am looking forward to this, but in the end, it’s still about the competition and seeing how you stack up competitively. I expect the competition to be tough.”

Tough but friendly.

The Champions Tour is a tad more laid-back than the PGA Tour and this has been a fun week already for Duffy, just because he has been able to renew some old acquaintances — such as Jay Don Blake.

“We qualified (for the PGA Tour) at the same qualifying school, in ’86 or ’87 and played quite a bit in college,” Duffy said. “But I hadn’t seen him in quite a few years. I saw a lot of guys for the first time in a long time today.”

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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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