This week at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open, the Champions Tour will crown its 1,000th tournament winner. The Champions Tour media staff caught up with stars past and present to talk about the 1,000th winner and the growth of the Champions Tour.
What would it be like to be the 1,000th winner?
Loren Roberts: "A win is a win, but it would be special. Obviously, this Tour -- and I call it a Tour now -- it's not an exhibition because if you look at the guys that are competing out here that are still competitive still on the regular TOUR when they play. It's a competitive Tour, and you look at the scores being shot by the winners out here and the statistical areas of the winners and this is a competitive Tour. It's a great mark for the Champions Tour.
Mark Wiebe: "Wow, I don’t even know what to say to that. My first thought would be it would be awesome because someone’s making a big deal out of it. To be the 1,000th winner would be great. It’s always great to win anything, but to be No. 1,000 would be pretty neat. It would be another feather in your cap so to speak.”
Hale Irwin: “I think it would speak for itself. It would be fantastic to have that label that you were the 1,000th winner in Champions Tour history. It would be a very proud moment for any of us if we were to win that event and become the 1,000th winner. The Dick’s Sporting Goods Open is a great event and it probably has the most community involvement in terms of it being a small community hosting a major event. They do everything that week for the tournament and the players.”
Tom Pernice, Jr.: “It would be special to be the 1,000th winner. To think that the Champions Tour has been around that long and survived and what it has evolved into is pretty impressive.”
John Cook: “Any milestone you’re a part of is a great credit to the longevity of the Champions Tour, the PGA TOUR, the guys participating, the sponsors that keep these events going and the people that come out to watch. It would be a special one, no doubt.”
Brad Faxon: “I’d like to be the winner of any Champions Tour event so I’m not picky. No, seriously, Dick’s has a special place in my heart because of my history there going back to Alex Alexander. I played there in the past and it was one of the first tournaments I played. What Dick’s has done to keep it going is terrific and the crowds there are fantastic. I think that is what the PGA TOUR is all about. It started in smaller towns and the community got behind it and supported it. That would be a pretty meaningful milestone right there.”
Jay Haas: “In my case just winning is more important than being the 1,000th, but I really think it says a lot about the Champions Tour to the longevity it’s had, the foresight those players had back in the 80s to think this might be a viable option for players 50 and over. So to have an opportunity to do that would be pretty special. I think someone said Hale Irwin was the 500th winner. It will be a great champion whoever it is and I hope I have a chance.”
What are your thoughts about the growth of the Champions Tour as it closes in on 1,000 events?
Wiebe: “The Tour has grown a lot because of the guys coming out here now and the guys we currently have. Not that the others weren’t big names, but to the casual viewer to have a Fred Couples or a Craig Stadler or a Bernhard Langer, guys that have won Masters and U.S. Opens and majors. Those guys are so well known; they are household names. You can’t say enough about the players that laid the groundwork for this Tour. I watched a lot of those guys because I’m a golf fan. A lot of guys my age weren’t watching those players. Guys like Stadler, Langer and Haas and guys like that, while I was more familiar with guys like Miller Barber, Jim Ferree, Don January, Orville Moody. I can go on and on because I’m a golf fan. Those guys did lay the groundwork and they made it so we can all play. They made this a great Tour and we just have to make sure we do our part keeping that alive. We just need to carry that torch.”
What are your thoughts on how the Champions Tour has grown over the years?
Charles Coody: “When the Tour started back in 1978 with the Legends, it was really just an experiment that Fred Raphael, Gene Sarazen and Jimmy Demaret thought of that maybe the guys would like to get together. The first one was pretty good and they decided to do it the next year and they had that great playoff with the four players. I watched it with my wife at home and I remember saying 'I don’t know if there’s a place in golf for a Senior Tour but if there is this will do it.' It just slowly took off but it took some work by Bob Goalby, Dan Sikes, Don January, Sam Snead, Julius Boros and Gardner Dickinson. Finally they got the (PGA) TOUR interested. There were just a few tournaments early on but when I came out we had 30. I think it’s a fantastic story in the world of sports for what it has accomplished. A lot of people pooh-poohed it, but they forgot when Arnold Palmer came out to the PGA TOUR as a 25-year-old, people latched on to him and became fans forever. When he turned 50 they still wanted to see Arnold play. It’s been an evolution since then when others from the TOUR turn 50 and join the Champions Tour. To me it’s been a real success story.”
Irwin: “My perspective is while I didn’t start back in the early, early days when the likes of Julius Boros, Sam Snead and the great players from yesteryear came out, it has certainly grown. In those early days it was kind of an outing almost. Then it got competitive and then we had some serious tournaments and they became very competitive events. I think it started fantastically. The guys behind it in the beginning were some of the all-time greats in golf. I don’t care what era you measure, these guys were some of the all-time greats. To have their backing and set the stage for when I came on and Gil Morgan and others players came on to enjoy the fruits of their labor and all their efforts I think it has been a wonderful experience. We’ve seen great sponsor relationships. The guys get it out here. The sponsors get it. They get great value for the money and we get great value from our sponsors and from our communities. I think it’s a great buy if you’re a sponsor and for me as a player, it’s a great way to enjoy the latter years of my professional life.”
Dave Stockton: "Looking back on the Senior Tour/Champions Tour, it's been my pleasure to play a part in it. When I turned 50 it was probably the best birthday I had. To be playing on a competitive tour in my 50s and then on into my 60s you know you've created something and given back to the game. That's the reason a lot of us did it. Sure it's about wins, but you come out and you see some of the older guys like Miller Barber, who we just lost, or a Don January. I'm getting up in that upper edge now like Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and so on, who all supported it. What are we supporting? We're supporting our love of the game of golf. So for the Champions Tour to be coming up on a thousand tournaments, that's a thousand weeks that we pleased the golfing public, that we raised funds for charity in each spot and it gave us a thousand times we could be together as competitors and friends."
Johnny Miller: "The Champions Tour is successful because these guys can really play. The hole kind of opens up when these guys get that age but they're shooting really low scores like Kenny Perry playing so great at the U.S. Senior Open. Plus, people like to see players they know and have watched since maybe they were young. A lot of the viewers are my age, maybe 50 to 80 years old and they have time to watch TV and they like to watch these guys and see how they can really play and hit the ball still. It's a great format and I think it's here to stay."