Future bright for N.Y.'s Sindelar and for Dick's Sporting Goods Open

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July 03, 2008
PGA TOUR staff

ENDICOTT, N.Y. (AP) -- Birthdays don't seem to phase Joey Sindelar, even the big ones. He was so excited about turning 50 he was gushing about it long before the fact.

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The prospect of playing the Champions Tour can have that effect on newcomers to pro golf's senior circuit.

"It was probably less stressful because in our world that means you get to be a rookie again," said Sindelar, who celebrated his 50th on March 30. "So there was all kinds of positive impact to go along with a potentially not-so-positive milestone. I probably looked forward to it more than most people."

Sindelar also is looking forward with great anticipation to Friday, when the Dick's Sporting Goods Open begins at En-Joie Golf Club. Sindelar, who won the B.C. Open in 1985 and 1987 on the course before the tournament was eliminated from the PGA TOUR, tees off in mid-morning in a threesome with Andy Bean and defending champion R.W. Eaks.

"You're going to look at two guys who can really play," Sindelar said. "I think the folks will be surprised at the level of play. R.W. shot 17 under last year. That's pretty amazing."

Eaks beat Bruce Vaughan by three shots for his first Champions Tour triumph by making three eagles and 15 birdies, shooting 8 under on both the par 5s and par 4s.

"This Tour is amazing for those of us who are eligible," said Sindelar, who has won just over $380,000 in his inaugural season. "As a pro golfer, unless you've got some kind of hangup or desire to be on the biggest stage in the world -- the regular PGA TOUR -- this has to be the best job in the world. The guys put it in the hole like you cannot believe."

Including Sindelar, who has three top-5s in eight starts, including a tie for third in the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May. His new life didn't start out so well, though -- he shot 75, 76, 71 to finish in a tie for 61st in his first event, the Cap Cana Championship.

"My first two weeks I was not able to get a handle on it," said Sindelar, a seven-time winner on the PGA TOUR. "It was a very funny thing. Clearly, in hindsight, I had been staring at that opportunity for way too long. I had been talking about it for several years with my friends, family, anybody who knew me from golf. 'You're going to be 50, it's going to be great. You're going to do this, you're going to do that.'

"I got out there and I was shook. I was very, very nervous those first two weeks. It's funny, non-Tour friends of mine found that hard to believe, that I had played competitively my whole life and that I would be whacked-out going on to this new place. That just goes to show you the power of the brain. It became way too important."

The B.C. Open was staged at En-Joie from 1971-2005, when flooding from the Susquehanna River forced the finale of the event to be moved to Turning Stone Resort about 90 miles northeast. Sindelar, who grew up and still lives in Horseheads, hadn't played En-Joie in three years prior to this week and was stunned when he returned.

"It's shocking how much improvement they've made," he said. "And that's not compared to last year or the flood years. That's compared to any of my last 20 years out there. Dick's (Sporting Goods) made a commitment and it shows."

Ironically, the B.C. Open managed to survive for so long without ever having a title sponsor. Its future was placed in doubt when the PGA TOUR moved it opposite the British Open beginning in 2000, which assured it would be dominated by players at the lower reaches of the money list.

The quaint, small-town feel of the tournament was an anomaly on a circuit dominated by big-money corporate sponsors and network television contracts. Named after the cartoon strip, the event struggled financially in one of the TOUR's smallest markets.

Still, it managed to survive more than three decades and raised more than $8 million for local charities before finally becoming a victim to the major modifications to the TOUR schedule that began in 2007.

Sindelar likes what has transpired since, especially since Dick's, which was founded in nearby Binghamton, has become that long-sought-after benefactor. The purse this week is $1.6 million, with $240,000 going to the winner.

"I just always felt this Champions event might be a better fit," Sindelar said. "I just think this is a perfect place for them. I just hope the future is bright."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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