This past week I had the opportunity to work for The Golf Channel at the 2014 Mississippi Gulf Coast Resorts Classic Golf Tournament. This is a PGA Champions Tour event.
Now, many of you may be thinking, “Champions Tour – all I care about are the young guys. The others are old and washed up.” Well you, my friend, are very very wrong.
I learned a lot this week, including how many valuable players are on this tour and how they formed the history of golf. This has now become my favorite tour and I will give you a few reasons why.
The field included nine golf Hall of Fame members and also the top 30 on the Charles Schwab Cup standings. Popular names like Fred Couples, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer were in the hunt. Legends like Tom Kite, Larry Nelson and Fred Funk were showing why they were such big names back in the day. Fan favorites like Michael Allen, Rocco Mediate and Jim Thorpe were putting on a show for the gallery.
I even heard a story about two of the players who became friends after one missed his tee time. After a time was given to him after he called the pro-shop, the Tour still wanted to disqualify him. But, thanks to his playing partner, who said he was also given a wrong tee time but got lucky and showed up early, he was allowed to play.
This instantly changed my mind about the group of guys that are on this circuit. True, classy, old fashioned golfers. They were raised through the game of golf and are examples of sportsmanship for the younger guys on tour.
The Champions Tour is a lot of fun to watch because the players aren’t under a lot of pressure. They’ve been playing professional golf for a while and now it’s their chance to relax and play the game they love. It is clear to see that they are having a great time and how much more interactive they are with the gallery. These players come from a time when professional golf wasn’t so serious.
I remember my Grandfather telling me how laid back professional golfers were and when he would attend tournaments how they would talk with the gallery while walking to their ball.
It seems like now on tour, guys are so uptight because of the constant pressure to win.
Unlike regular PGA events, which is Thursday thru Sunday, unless there is a playoff, Champions tour events only last three days. Usually, the days leading up to the actual tournament is the pro-am. In the Champions Tour, there may be more than one. At MGCRC there were two before and one after. To me, this shows how versatile the players are. Some may complain that they are tired and don’t want to play a pro-am the day after the tournament, but I heard no complaints and only saw smiles.
For people who think that these guys are too old to still be playing golf professionally, you are wrong. These men are in better shape then some 30-year-olds. Although they may still smoke like chimneys, there are only a few that use golf carts. Their bodies are still in good condition to be able to hit the ball, and far at that!
When I visited the driving range, I was impressed with how many good, solid swings I saw. These guys still have the distance- maybe not as long as some of the younger guys- but they can still put the ball in play and make birdies.
But as all golfers know, the short game is what really helps the scorecard. You can easily miss a birdie but or a par putt and move down the leaderboard instantly. I was especially impressed with Freddy Couples’ short game. He took his time reading putts and was very accurate.
This is where I think these players’ age does matter. Being a great putter comes with experience. Good feeling and touch is key around the greens and the Champions Tour professionals have had a lot of practice. They also have more course knowledge from having played all of the United States ever since they have been on the PGA Tour.
What a great group of guys on The Champions Tour. It was so awesome for me to see professional golfers who love the game so much they never want to stop playing. People like Nick Faldo, who has easily made enough money in his career to retire from playing golf professionally, still played in this tournament.
Sir Nick is a very busy man, however he just can’t stay away from his passion. How cool to see guys whose happiness is fueled by hitting a little white ball?
If you have not been to a Champions Tour event yet, I suggest you find the nearest one around and attend. You truly won’t regret it.