By Vartan Kupelian, Champions Tour Insider
Two majors down, three to go.
The Encompass Championship is next on the Champions Tour schedule. Next week’s event at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill. is the second of three new events on the 2013 Champions Tour calendar.
And then the three remaining major championships come with a flourish. The Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship is June 27-30 at Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh, where Joe Daley will defend his title.
After a week off, the Champions Tour will reconvene for the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club, July 11-14, followed by the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale in Merseyside, England, July 25-28.
The major championships are a litmus test, of sorts. They break ground and introduce us to new champions – like Daley, Roger Chapman and Kohki Idoki – or they are a confirmation.
David Frost and Esteban Toledo fall into the latter category.
Idoki’s victory at the Senior PGA Championship, the season’s first major championship on the Champions Tour, came completely out of the blue, as did Chapman’s victory a year before in the same event. The similarities between Idoki and Chapman go a long way.
Each was a well-known and much-respected professional in his home country – Idoki in Japan, Chapman in England – with extensive resumes if not extensive victories. They ventured abroad to try something new and different and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Champions Tour. They capitalized, with Chapman adding a second major last year at the U.S. Senior Open.
Frost put the essence of the Champions Tour into words after last week’s victory at the Regions Tradition, the second of five majors, when he said, “I feel fortunate enough to have something like the Champions Tour that we can carry on and play the game and still enjoy the game of golf and give so many people so much enjoyment.”
It’s not farfetched to suggest Frost has been the best player on the Champions Tour since August. He has won twice already this year after a two-win season in 2012. Frost ended the 2012 season with five top-10 finishes in six events, including a victory at the AT&T Championship. He started this year with five straight top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss in Hawaii and a victory at the Toshiba Classic.
But until last week, there wasn’t a major on his resume.
“Generally speaking, yes, I obviously am delighted to have finally won a major tournament,” said Frost, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, who won 10 times on the PGA TOUR.
A major championship, Frost said, “sort of rounds it out a little bit."
“Ideally you would want to win a major on the regular tour,” he said. “Second best would be to win one out here. There's a couple of enjoyable times I'm going to have the next couple weeks.”
Frost joined Bernhard Langer as a two-time winner and leapfrogged Langer in the Charles Schwab Cup points list. There’s a long way to go but it’s clear from Frost’s play over the past 12 months that he’s a genuine threat for the season-long bonus.
With double points for his victory at Shoal Creek, Frost has 1,336 points, almost 300 more than Langer, but Frost knows that’s hardly a comfortable margin.
“It’s been an exciting year, my kind of taking a run for the top of the yellow jersey out there,” Frost said. “I had it for one week and then he took it away for me, so hopefully now I'll have it for more than one week.
“You just go through such hard work playing golf, trying to accomplish these things. The guys in the Champions Tour, because they're here doesn't mean they practice less. We all practice as hard as we used to because that's all we know.”
The sentiment is true and accurate for Chapman, Idoki and Toledo. They have continued to play golf despite the ups and downs because that is simply what they have done most of their lives.
It was very early in life that Idoki decided he wanted to be a professional golfer. He started playing the game in Osaka as a 9-year-old.
In many ways, his inspiration came from the famous Japanese golfing brothers, the Ozakis. Joe Ozaki was there behind the 18th green to give Idoki a congratulatory hug at Shoal Creek.
“When I got to have eligibility for this championship, Mr. Joe Ozaki invited me to go with him,” Idoki said through an interpreter after his victory. “And every time I asked him about the United States, Mr. Joe Ozaki mentored me for all my golf life when I became a senior.
“It's one of the greatest things to become a PGA Champion. I cannot imagine any more. I cannot understand any situation that would be more important … I cannot believe that I am the champion.”
Overlooked in the Frost-Fred Couples race to the wire at Shoal Creek was the third-place finish posted by Toledo. Playing with conditional status when the season began, Toledo has carved out a splendid season with a victory at the Insperity Championship after a near miss at the Greater Gwinnett Championship. He has five top 10s in 10 starts and has marked himself as a player to be reckoned with.
Toledo, a native of Mexicali, Mexico, is just another example of what can happen on the Champions Tour, the ultimate second chance in professional sports.