Sluman joins Champions Tour with his expectations in check

September 13, 2007
By Lauren Deason Editorial Coordinator

Rookie schmookie. Jeff Sluman isn't letting his fellow Champions Tour cronies take advantage of his newfound bottom-of-the-totem-pole status.

Category Total Rank
Driving Distance 280.5 yds. 162
Driving Accuracy 59.41% 146
Greens in Regulation 61.01% 160
Putts Per Round 29.95 170
Sand Saves 48.74% 104
Scoring Average 71.76 180
FedExCup Points 1,030 174
Money Leaders $273,192 166

He's sharing a house with Craig Stadler, Tom Purtzer and Pat McGowan at the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn this week, his first start on the Champions Tour, but the 1988 PGA Championship winner doesn't plan to be saddled with dirty dish duty or other menial tasks.

"Stads and I figured since we both won a major, that Pat can do the vacuuming and Spurtz can do the dishes. So we're in good shape," Sluman joked.

The six-time PGA TOUR winner celebrated his 50th birthday on Sept. 11 in Hickory, N.C., and was treated to a birthday cake before Wednesday's pro-am.

Well, scratch that.

"They sliced it and I didn't even get any of it. All the volunteers grabbed it and gobbled it down."

That's OK, let them eat cake, Sluman says. He's just glad to be back amongst his new/old friends on the Champions Tour.

"It's kind of funny, I pulled in yesterday looking for my parking spot. My driver pulled me in there and I see (Wayne) Levi and you see (Bruce) Lietzke and (Tim) Simpson and (Scott) Simpson," he said. "It's like, I know every one of these guys. This is fun.

"It's kind of like you're back where you started again. So it's very, very rewarding in that aspect that you've been able to play golf long enough to actually get out here and see all your old friends."

That being said, Sluman isn't expecting to come out and dominate for the remainder of the season. Having kept up with his buddies' scores on the Champions Tour each week, he realizes that it's not going to be a cake walk with guys like Jay Haas, Tom Watson and Loren Roberts dominating the leaderboards.

"All you have to do is look in the paper every week and see the scores that they are shooting to know that there has been very little drop off coming from the PGA TOUR over here," he said. "So anybody that thinks you're going to come out here and waltz through it and just dominate I think is in for a surprise, and in for a surprise very quickly.

"As I said, I'm coming out here, and I know how good these guys are. I see the scores they are shooting, and I just want to get competitive again with them."

With just 54 holes to play in each event, Sluman is aware that getting off to a quick start is more important on the Champions Tour than the PGA TOUR and expects to face a learning curve in the beginning, especially until he learns a new course rotation.

"Everybody comes out here I think trying to win every week," Sluman said, who hasn't won a tournament since the 2002 Greater Milwaukee Open. "Everybody but one goes away a little disappointed. So I'm not going to set my expectations very high.

"I know how good the players are out here. They have played the golf courses before. I'm going to be a rookie," he added. "You have to temper your expectations and I just want to, like I said, learn again how to compete and learn how to have a chance to win again. That's essentially what I'm going to try and do.

"After you go around maybe for a year and you learn the golf courses, hopefully you do a little better. But these guys are so good and there's so many I kind of laugh when I say, there's so many young players coming out here. There's a great group out here."

To prepare for his debut, Sluman maintained a busy PGA TOUR schedule, playing in 21 events in 2007 and earning a high finish at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee in late July with a tie for ninth. The 50-year-old also kept up a rigorous practice routine and made a few necessary tweaks in his golf game.

Sluman can't wait to see if the practice paid off when he hits first tee shot at the Rock Barn Golf and Spa at 11:25 a.m. ET on Friday. He also plans to play the final four events on the Champions Tour and, if he earns enough money in the next five events to place in the top 30 on the money list, could make it to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

"If I had been born a little earlier, I would have been at Pebble a couple of weeks ago," he said. "I knew as soon as I was going to turn 50 that I was going to play them out. So I think I was probably -- except for Dana Quigley, the only guy to commit to the last five tournaments [of the year] in January."

In addition to serving as Jack Nicklaus' assistant captain for the upcoming Presidents Cup competition, Sluman might also get a little distracted from his playing duties by following his beloved Cubbies -- who haven't won a World Series since 1908 -- end-of-season play. Sluman originally hails from Rochester, N.Y., and attended Florida State University but now lives in Hinsdale, Ill., and roots hard for his Chicago Bulls, Cubs and Bears.

"Did they win last night?" Sluman asked about his Cubs, who are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings. "They did, they held on to the lead! Yeah, baby. So now they are tied with Milwaukee. ...

"Milwaukee has probably got a little better pitching, but as they said, anybody can have a bad century. So maybe the 2000s are going to be the Cubs' year, who knows."

And who knows if 2007 will be Sluman's year on the Champions Tour? He's certainly anxious to find out.