The Champions Tour season of 2013 has been nice to a bumper crop of rookies.
Newcomers Rocco Mediate and Esteban Toledo have two victories each. Kohki Idoki of Japan won a major title at the Senior PGA Championship. John Riegger, soon after he became eligible for the Champions Tour, and Bart Bryant also have celebrated in the winner’s circle.
That’s good for them and it’s good for the Champions Tour.
With four events left, the race for rookie honors is wide open. Toledo and Mediate are the frontrunners – it’s almost a pick ‘em between the pair. But Idoki has a major championship and conventional wisdom says that’s worth at least two regular tour titles. Riegger and
Bryant still have time to throw their hats into the ring with big finishes.
All except Mediate are in the field this week at the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C.
Toledo and Mediate are both over the $1 million mark in earnings. Toledo, who has nine top 10s, is No. 8 on the Money List, with Mediate right behind at No. 9. Mediate has six top-10 finishes.
When the season started, Toledo had only conditional status. He needed to prove himself to earn a spot and he did it. He never doubted that he could or would.
Toledo said he is “absolutely” playing the best golf of his career.
“I played the PGA TOUR for so long but I never had so much fun as the Champions Tour,” he said after his victory in Montreal. “It seems like everything is going on the right track for me. I have a lot of discipline, practice and dedicate myself. I'm really hungry for success, not for money, just success – to prove that I can win again and again and again.
“I might not be Fred Couples or anybody like that, but at least I have my goals and my dream and I'm going to reach them … Obviously winning is everything.”
After a near-miss at the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship, Toledo posted his breakthrough victory at the Insperity Championship in a playoff against Gene Sauers and Mike Goodes.
Mediate won his first Champions Tour start at the Allianz Championship and added a second with a virtuoso performance at the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary, where he coasted to a 7-stroke victory.
“It was one of those weeks you want to have,” Mediate said afterwards. “I've never had a week like that as far as having that big of a lead.
“It was really fun. It was the first time I ever won twice in a year, a calendar year, so that was cool, too. It was fun and everything worked out well.”
What the rookies have confirmed is that there are no easy victories on the Champions Tour.
“I'm very touchy about this tour,” Mediate said. “About what people think about it and stuff like that. I'll say it again. Anybody, any age, from any tour, come on, see what you do … I don't care who it is. Bring 'em.
“The scores we can shoot in three days are ridiculous. We're playing golf courses that aren't short. I don't know what flight this is, but it's not short. So it's 7,000 yards long, average course on (the PGA TOUR) is 7,000 yards long, give or take. So come on. If you think it's easy, please come out here. I tell you what, it's not. I've never worked harder in my life. I've always worked hard, but I'm still working as hard as I've ever worked.”
“It's a great place to be able to play golf. If you are not on your game, you are going to get crushed out here.”
Mediate said the advancing age of Champions Tour players is of little consequence because vast amounts of experience compensates for it.
“We should get better as we get older,” he said. “We should know more than everybody else knows. I have been playing this game professionally almost 30 years, I better get better. I still talk to people, I watch guys play. I watch them hit shots.
“You have to keep moving forward and trying to learn stuff. I got the best guys in the world out here that ever played. Think about that one. I get to hang with the best players that ever played. Think about who I get to play with: Watson, Kite, all the guys, Irwin. If I have a question, they will answer my question most of the time after busting me up a little bit after I ask it.”
It wasn’t always that way for Mediate on the PGA TOUR.
“I never asked anybody questions back then,” he said. “First of all, I was too shy to do it. Now I don't care. I had to try to figure it out myself. We all tried to figure it out ourselves. I’m going to ask questions and watch them practice and stuff because they’re the best who ever played. I’m not the best. They are.
“I'm ecstatic to be here, absolutely. Would I want to play the PGA TOUR forever? Yeah, but you can't. You can't.”