At 52, Steve Jones is finally out on the Champions Tour. The next goal: Making sure his oft-injured body holds up.
Jones has been missing in action after suffering multiple injuries throughout his career which forced him off the TOUR for extended periods. Now he's back, making his Champions Tour debut as a 52-year-old at this week's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah, Georgia.
"I think my injuries come from wear and tear, just from taking big divots over the years," said Steve Jones, during a pre-tournament interview at this week's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf on the Champions Tour. "I've been injured 10 years of my 28 years out here. I kind of have to start all over again."
That's the same Steve Jones who won the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, defeating Tom Lehman and Davis Love III by one stroke. It was one of eight PGA TOUR victories for the veteran, the most recent coming at the 1998 Quad City Classic.
Now, he's ready for his debut this week.
Rod Spittle had asked Jones to be his partner in the team event but Jones required a sponsor exemption to compete in the Legends Division. When that exemption wasn't forthcoming, Doug Tewell, his good friend and occasional practice partner at TPC Scottsdale was happy to have him as a partner.
In 1991, Jones suffered ligament and joint damage to his left ring finger in a motorcycle accident, and he missed almost three years of play as a professional. He had labrum surgery in 2006 thinking it would fix the tennis elbow problem which continued giving him grief in 2007. In 2008, he had shoulder surgery followed by elbow surgery in 2009.
Jones teed it up at this year's Bob Hope Classic after getting approval from his doctor, his first tournament start since the 2007 Reno Tahoe Open.
When he was 40, Jones didn't think he wanted to play the Champions Tour. He thought he would be retired by 45.
"I didn't really want to go out that way," Jones said. "I got a lot of good, positive feedback from some of the Champions Tour sponsors of different tournaments and hopefully I'll get in a few of those, maybe try to Monday qualify in a couple of tournaments. It feels like 1982 all over again, Monday qualifying and playing against the same guys."
"People miss out if they don't come out and watch this tournament," said Jones of this week's unique tournament. "I think it's a jewel. People will get there money's worth because of the players here. The old guys here, older than me obviously, they're amazing. Just phenomenal swings still. That's what I love about golf - you can play until you can't walk anymore."
Jones has some experience in team events. He played in the mixed-team J.C. Penney Classic almost every year and enjoyed victory with Jane Crafter in 1987. He partnered with Tom Lehman in the 1996 World Cup of Golf, finishing second in South Africa and he was Hal Sutton's captain's assistant for the United States team at the 2004 Ryder Cup.
"You try to go as low as you can," he said when asked about strategy in team competition. "Make as many birdies as you can and don't lay back at all."
Jones has already noticed some differences on the Champions Tour, jokingly referring to the benches on every tee and a prolific number of toilets on the course. One constant for Jones, however, is the Bullseye putter he has used throughout his career. It will be in his bag again at this week's Liberty Mutual legends of Golf.
"One thing I do know is that my putter is older than half the TOUR right now," he said about the Bullseye he got at Greensboro in 1982.
Jones has been trying to rehab during the last few years, but since August he has been teaching in the Phoenix area. He's currently teaching at the Whirlwind Golf Club at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, Ariz.
"It's a whole new ballgame when you try to teach somebody as opposed to playing in a pro-am and giving them Band-Aids," he said. "I think I've helped a lot of kids, especially with their mental approach to the game and confidence, what they need to be thinking about if they want to be a pro, and I've seen a lot of good kids out there in Arizona."
When asked about his expectations in Savannah this week, Jones chuckled.
"I just want to make cuts," he said with the knowledge there is no cut on the Champions Tour. "I've been dying to say that for a long time."