SAN FRANCISCO -- Born in nearby San Mateo, Michael Allen was 7 years old when he made his first visit to the Olympic Club to see the 1966 U.S. Open. He was 14 when his family joined the club. He estimates that he's played 2,000 rounds here, along with countless practice hours -- "many, many hours sweating on, even in this cold temperature," he recalls.
So imagine the feeling for the 53-year-old Champions Tour veteran this week. For the first time in his career, he will tee it up in a major at his home course, numerous friends and family on the other side of the ropes. There may not be a dry eye in the gallery.
"It's going to be one of the greatest moments of my life," Allen said Tuesday.
The oldest player in the 156-man field this week, Allen qualified by claiming one of the seven available spots in sectional qualifying held nearby at Lake Merced and TPC at Harding Park. It's the first time he has played in the U.S. Open since becoming a Champions Tour member in 2009.
Allen has won twice on the Champions Tour this year and ranks third in Charles Schwab Cup points. But even though no player in the field has more experience playing this course than he does, Allen doesn't put much stock in his ability to be a contender on Sunday.
"Who has a chance to beat me?" he asked. "Oh yeah, everybody in the field."
That's why you get the sense that just teeing off on Thursday is all that matters. Anything else would be gravy.
"It's probably going to be the first time I'm going to be extremely nervous teeing off," Allen said. "It's just going to be fulfilling for me, a life-long dream. ...
"I always loved playing in this championship but to play here is what makes this so extremely special for me. I've grown up here."
If Sam Snead's longtime record as the oldest TOUR winner is to be broken, it is likely to happen at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
There's just something about El Camaleon that brings out the best in players around or over 50 years of age.
Fred Funk won the Mayakoba Golf Classic at age 50 in 2007, and 53-year-old John Cook finished only three shots behind winner Johnson Wagner in 2011. Both Funk and Cook were back in 2012 -- Funk made the cut; Cook didn't.
But all eyes at Mayakoba are on Michael Allen, who turned 53 just last month. Allen has played over 300 times on the PGA TOUR without winning, although he does have three second-place finishes, most recently in 2010 at the Viking Classic.
Even at his age, winning on the PGA TOUR is something Allen wants to accomplish before its too late. And this week's Mayakoba Golf Classic is his best shot at doing that.
Allen is working on one of the best rounds on Saturday at El Camaleon. He bogeyed the par-4 15th to drop four shots back, but he's still 4 under on the day on a good day for scoring in Mexico.
Should Allen go low and win on Sunday, he would best Snead's record by a few months:
|Sam Snead||52 years, 10 months||1965 Greater Greensboro Open|
|Art Wall||51 years, 7 months||1975 Greater Milwaukee Open|
|Jim Barnes||51 years, 3 months||1937 Long Island Open|
|John Barnum||51 years, 1 month||1962 Cajun Classic|
|Fred Funk||50 years, 8 months||2007 Mayakoba Golf Classic|
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
If you’re reading this and haven’t finished (or started) shopping for the golfer in your life, you know you’re under the gun. Fortunately there’s help online, from the good ( our holiday gift guide) to the very, very bad.
For what not to buy, check out the “10 stupidest golf gifts” from Golfdigest.com. To sum it up – goofy headcovers aren’t so cool anymore, scoring computers shouldn’t replace scorecards, loud pants are best left to John Daly and “adjustable club” doesn’t mean one club that changes into other clubs.
Running out of time is no excuse for the bad golf gift.
PERRY’S MOVE: Kenny Perry, a first-time winner on the Champions Tour in 2011, will return in 2012 with a new equipment deal. The longtime TaylorMade player is switching to Adams Golf, playing Speedline woods and Idea hybrids and irons.
Other prominent Adams players on the Champions Tour include Michael Allen and former Schwab Cup
WEDGE GAME: The personalization aftermarket for wedges is turning into big business. It’s not enough anymore to choose a loft and a metal finish, not with multicolored paintfills and shaftbands plus engraved initials and even entire names. Cleveland is the latest to join the party, with its mycustomwedge.com website. (You can tinker with different designs without purchasing.)
Titleist and wedge designer Bob Vokey have been in the customization business for a while at vokey.com, and makes its new SM4 wedges available for personalization in January. New engravings (pictured) are among the customization options.
A 15TH CLUB?: Titleist had some fun with its TOUR pros, asking what they would put in their bag if a 15th club was allowed. Check out the video here. Some opted for wedges, some for hybrids. What would you want?
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – A little more than two months ago, Jay Don Blake was a Champions Tour journeyman.
Now he’s a multiple-event winner.
Blake won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship Sunday, the first to win the Tour’s season finale in his first appearance since Mark McNulty in 2004. He took a two-shot lead into the final round and never relinquished it, winning by two over Michael Allen, Mark Calcavecchia, Jay Haas and Loren Roberts.
Add that to his win five starts ago at the Songdo IBD Championship in Korea, where he won a four-man playoff, and Blake ends 2011 as one of four multiple winners on Tour, joining Schwab Cup winner Tom Lehman, John Cook and Fred Couples.
“How can you pass up having a chance to play on the Champions Tour?” said Blake, who rose to fourth in Schwab Cup points and will take $200,000 from that prize pool in addition to his $440,000 share of the winner’s purse from TPC Harding Park. “I wanted to be healthy and ready if I could play out here and perform like I was able to play.”
Blake, 53, won once on the PGA TOUR, in 1991 at Torrey Pines. He cut his PGA TOUR career short of age 50 due to back pain, and for three years worked on stretching and tweaking enough to give the Champions Tour a shot.
He pieced together schedules with his partial status, qualifying for some events and relying on sponsor’s exemptions at times. What he never lost was his drive and, just as importantly, a silky putting stroke.
“He’s always been a great putter his whole life,” Allen said. “When we played in college, he was a great putter, and that’s been his game.
“You go out to dinner with someone, you want to go out to dinner with a good putter, because they’re always happy.”
Blake isn’t the type for overt displays of emotion, happy or not, but the satisfaction was clear on his face late Sunday afternoon, especially with some 20 family members and friends around to share in his win. The next stop will be the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, a winners-only event.
An event for Jay Don Blake.
“I just kept knocking at the door and I felt like sometime down the road it was going to happen,” he said.
It’s now wide open.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – Mark Calcavecchia turned the Schwab Cup race into an exciting battle Sunday afternoon, one that required watching several players other than him.
But in the end it was a result he’s all too familiar with – second.
At the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, Calcavecchia needed to win or finish no worse than two-way tie for second to steal the Cup from Tom Lehman, the points leader since the second tournament of the season.
He started the final round in a tie for sixth, but on a windy day at TPC Harding Park he made a late run with a 2-under 69.
When Calcavecchia birdied the 15th hole and Jay Haas bogeyed the 13th, there was a three-way tie for second. Minutes later, Loren Roberts made it a four-way tie at 6 under with a birdie at 15. (Jay Don Blake was well in front, so winning the event wasn’t a possibility.)
Haas and Roberts continued to pour in pars, Haas making a solid save off a bad drive at 15, Roberts saving par on the par-3 17th after missing the green.
Calcavecchia’s key moment was on 18, when he hit a great drive and only had 134 yards left to the par-4. He was in between a wedge and 9-iron in switching winds, and his 9-iron ended up pin high but well right of the hole.
“I had the right distance but I never swung at it. Wind just got it,” Calcavecchia said. “If I had to do it again I’d hit a hard wedge and take my chances. I would have hit a better shot, put it that way.”
He two-putted to post 6 under, and Roberts did the same from the next group. Calcavecchia couldn’t afford another finisher at that number, but local favorite Michael Allen hit a chip close at 18 that nearly went in for birdie. In or out, Calcavecchia’s fate was sealed.
He finished second in points, 74 behind Lehman.
“It’s kind of the story of my whole career, I’ve had a lot of seconds in my day and a lot of close calls,” said Calcavecchia, who had 13 wins on the PGA TOUR and 27 seconds. On the Champions Tour, he has one win and four seconds.
“It could have been a lot better but on the other hand I had a great year. Just rattled off more top-10s than anybody.”
True – Calcavecchia had 15 top-10s to Lehman’s 12, in one more tournament. But second place Sunday was just too crowded of a place for his Schwab Cup hopes.
SAN FRANCISCO – Tom Lehman survived a game effort from Mark Calcavecchia to win the Schwab Cup while Jay Don Blake won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship Sunday.
Blake won for the second time in two months on the Champions Tour, shooting a final-round 71 at TPC Harding Park to win by two shots.
In the season-long points race, Lehman finished T18 in the finale to open the door for Calcavecchia. But Calc needed a win or a two-way tie for second, and there turned out to be a four-way tie for second with Calc, Loren Roberts, Michael Allen and Jay Haas.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO – Michael Allen has a chance to exorcise a pair of demons Sunday at a course that’s familiar and friendly to him.
Allen, a native of nearby San Mateo whose history at TPC Harding Park dates to his junior golf days, sits two shots back of leader Jay Don Blake at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. He’s 6 under par after a third consecutive 69 and is tied with Jay Haas and David Frost.
A year ago at the Champions Tour season finale he led going into Sunday after a third-round course-record 61, but John Cook shot 67 in the final round to Allen’s 70.
That was Allen’s last runner-up finish on Tour. This year his best effort has been a pair of T3s, extending a winless drought that stretches to 2009.
Allen won his very first Tour start that year, at the Senior PGA Championship, but the second win has proved elusive.
“Getting a win is kind of big in that we all come out here to play to win. In the end, that’s why we’re here,” Allen said. “When you finally win, you kind of remember that you know how to do it.”
Allen never won in 366 PGA TOUR starts, and he’s chasing Blake, who won once in 497 TOUR starts. Blake’s win came in 1991 and he went 20 years before winning again, in September at the Songdo IBD Championship.
“Jay Don, like I have been doing, he’s been a journeyman out here playing for a long time,” Allen said. “To me, when I go out now, I have fun with it. (Sunday’s) going to be a fun day no matter what.”
The fun will be enhanced by a vocal gallery that has followed him all week, family and friends from the area and from Arizona, where he now lives.
“I feel like I’m very comfortable in this area, hopefully that vibe will carry through and I can get some good mojo out there tomorrow,” Allen said.