Insider: Andrade rested and eager to make strong start on Champions TourMADISON, MS - JULY 21: Billy Andrade tees of the fifth hole during the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship at Annandale Golf Club on July 21, 2013 in Madison, Mississippi. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)December 10, 2013
A year ago, Billy Andrade had dinner in Florida with a couple of friends and, as professional athletes will, they shared stories about their games and their careers.
Andrade, ebullient as always, was saying to Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley, two great baseball names, that he was getting his golf game ready.
“Ready for what?” Eckersley asked.
“The Champions Tour,” Andrade replied. “I get to play again.”
“You get to play again?” Eckersley said. “Like the TOUR?”
“Eck, where have you been. It’s been going since 1980,” Andrade said.
Eckersley couldn’t believe it.
“He was dumbfounded,” Andrade said. “Eck isn’t a golf guy. He didn’t know. He got so mad because he wants to go back and pitch again and he can’t.
“When you retire from other sports, you’re done. In golf, you can go back and do it again. Amazing. I never thought, when I was 30, the Champions Tour would still be going when I was 50. It’s not about the money, it’s about competition, about playing, about having fun again. When you’ve been away from the game, you look forward to playing the game.”
That’s why Andrade has been “going crazy” waiting for his 50th birthday on January 25, 2014, when he will be immediately eligible to join the Champions Tour based on his career earnings.
“I’m just looking forward to being a competitive golfer again,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a schedule where I know when I’m playing, to have a balance in my life. For 22 years, I had that balance. I knew where I was playing.
“I feel fresh. Taking some time away is going to really, really help me when I get out there. I took three years off. I’m ready. I’m energetic. I know I can play.”
In June, 1991, Andrade became the first player in six years to win his first two PGA TOUR titles in consecutive weeks when he won the Kemper Open in a playoff over Jeff Sluman and the Buick Classic by a stroke over Brad Bryant. A three-time All-America at Wake Forest and once the top-ranked junior in the country (1981), Andrade won twice more on the PGA TOUR, at the 1998 Canadian Open and the 2000 Invensys Classic in Las Vegas.
Andrade played a full schedule of events on the PGA TOUR through 2009 but his success rate was grinding to a halt.
“I was struggling, wasn’t enjoying missing cuts,” he said. “My wife was going back to school. My son was going to high school, my daughter was going to middle school. I got a phone call from the Golf Channel asking me about doing some TV. The stars were kind of aligned at that point. I could take some time off, be with the family. It wasn’t about me. I could be a Mr. Mom and be with my kids more.”
For three years, Andrade did on-course commentary at the Golf Channel and some analysis. He knew that in three years, when he turned 50, the Champions Tour awaited. With his career money winnings of more than $12 million, he had an immediate exemption.
When the offer came from Golf Channel, he figured, “maybe this is a good time to learn a new craft, learn how to be a commentator and at the same time be home more and take a little break from the game.
“I played nonstop from the time I was 14-, 15-years-old,” he said. “Junior golf, Wake Forest, on TOUR right away out of college – 22 years in a row. I just kind of hit a wall. It was fantastic for me, my family and my mental side. I feel like a kid again.
”There was also a learning side. After a lifetime in golf, there was still more to see and discover.“I learned that the top players in the world chip well,” Andrade said.It was meant to be a funny line and Andrade said it with a laugh but his point was made.
“It’s just so funny,” he said. “You get such a great perspective on the other side. The No. 1 perspective of being a commentator and watching, they’re not great all the time. You see Tiger and Phil shooting 65, 66 and you think they’re perfect. They’re not. When you’re a payer, you think you need to be perfect.
“I would watch Mickelson or Woods, they missed fairways, they missed greens, they don’t make every birdie putt. It’s a great perspective to see how they manage their game. No matter where they hit it, they chip it very close. The short game, the chipping, that’s why they’re the best. They get the ball in the hole quicker than the rest of us. It was really a fun time to watch these guys.”
Andrade made three starts on the PGA TOUR this year. At the Sanderson Farms Classic in July, he tied for fifth, closing with rounds of 66, 67 and 65. With six holes left, he had a chance to win before finishing 3 shots behind Woody Austin, who will celebrate his 50th birthday two days after Andrade.
“It was so cool that I had a chance,” Andrade said. “It was nice to be in the mix, have that feeling that I used to feel.”That’s a good thing because Andrade knows what it will be like on the Champions Tour.
“All the guys I’ve talked to, every single one, has said, ‘When you come out, be ready,’” he said “From Jay Haas to Peter Jacobsen to Tommy Armour, be ready. You’ve got to go low the first round. I’ve been watching from afar. That’s what’s so great about the Champions Tour. It’s still high quality.”