Jenkins putting it all together at home in Houston

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Tom Jenkins has an affinity for Texas -- and the colors red and white.
May 04, 2012
Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- It's not the easiest of commutes. Bumper-to-bumper in some areas of the most congested spaghetti-loop interchanges in the country. Toll-road speeds in other parts. About 50 miles of Houston traffic -- one way.

But Tom Jenkins isn't complaining. He's spent the week sleeping in his old bed and visiting with his 92-year-old mother, Martha. He's taken another look at all the trophies lining the shelves in the Bellaire area home where he grew up.

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A lifetime memories -- on and off the course. Pictures. Yearbooks. A deluge of red and white -- every school he ever attended from Mark Twain Elementary to Pershing Junior High to Bellaire High (where he dated actress Cindy Pickett aka Ferris Bueller's mom) to University of Houston (where he played on the 1970 NCAA Championship team) had the same color combo.

Heck, he even had a guy named Jack walk up to him on the putting green earlier in the week and remind him of the time he beat Jenkins in a junior event in 1962 at Sharpstown Golf Course. Needless to say, he didn't go hole by hole, but he remembered the whooping.

Jenkins never had much success when the Shell Houston Open was played here at The Woodlands TPC. His low round here was a 69; his best finish was a T45 here in 1992; his best finish at the tournament was a T30 in 1983, when it was played at another Woodlands course.

Yet Friday, he put it all together. He threw out a 6-under 66 and trails first-round leader Tom Lehman by a shot at the Insperity Championship.

Not bad for an old guy -- as in 64, almost 65. Or a guy who hasn't won an event since 2006.

But a guy who has come close to shooting his age a few times, including a 61 at the 2006 Boeing Classic when he was 59.

"You know you're getting old when you talk about shooting your age,'' he said, chuckling. "There's some good and bad in that.''

Old? That's relative when you're getting old too when you're in the company of Champions Tour kids like Lehman (53), Funk (soon to be 56) and David Peoples (52). And when you look at those junior trophies in the cubbies of your high school bedroom.

"Being at home, that's what's kept me relaxed,'' he said.

So far, so good. Jenkins took on the tougher back nine first and turned in 32 with a birdie at the tough 18th. He parred the 17th, the most challenging approach. "(Those) are holes that get your attention,'' he said.

A 34 on the front and ... he's sitting in the best position he's been in for a while. His best individual finish was a T20 at the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am; his best finish period, a T9 with partner Bruce Fleisher at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf.

"Pretty stress-free round, basically,'' he said. "I've been close to playing well."

One thing you might not know about Jenkins? Other than the red-white combo and high school girlfriend? He earned less than $500,000 in his PGA TOUR career with just one win (1975 IVB-Philadelphia Classic) but ranks eighth on the all-time Champions Tour money list with seven wins and more than $13.4 million in earnings -- ahead of Tom Watson, Jay Haas and Loren Roberts, to name a few.

Talk about a mulligan. And, as for the red-and-white? Two of his seven Champions Tour wins came in Canada (red maple leaf, white flag).

He's had 19 top-10s since his last win (2006 SAS Championship) and a couple of them were thisclose to a win.

But at 64, he's realistic. He knows this course and he's playing well. But can he keep it up?

"There's probably not that many people who give me much of a chance ..." he said. "But if I get in the hunt, I know how to do it."

He played well in Tampa and found something here this week. No drop off from competition gaps in the Champions Tour schedule. And, well, this is home -- and a mere 2 1/2 hour drive from his current home in Austin.

But Jenkins is taking a break from his boyhood home and the commute. To give himself every possible advantage, he's staying at the players hotel.

As for the course? He's comfortable on it. And on the leaderboard.

"It becomes a new thing again,'' he said. "It's just all in how you deal with the pressure.''