PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Winning early proving more difficult
It's become more rare for players to make big impacts early in their PGA TOUR Champions careers
January 31, 2018
By Bob McCllelan, PGATOUR.COM
- Stephen Ames won for the first time (Mitsubishi Electric Classic) in 2017 after 48 starts. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
There was a common perception about PGA TOUR Champions that rookies would hop on and dominate, and it wasn’t incorrect.
Fred Couples won four times in his first season. Bernhard Langer won four times in his first 23 starts. Rocco Mediate won twice in his first 17 starts, Kenny Perry twice in his first 15.
But that narrative has changed in the past four years.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was the last player to win in his first start on PGA TOUR Champions, at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic on April 14, 2014. There have been 22 first-time winners since, and on average it has taken them about 30 starts before they were able to collect a trophy.
The range is wide. Paul Broadhurst won in just his second start. Gene Sauers is at the other end of the spectrum, breaking through in his 86th start. Most of the rest of the group fall between 15 and 37 starts.
There are several factors at play. Even Jules Verne would appreciated the depth of the fields on PGA TOUR Champions, which might be at an all-time level. Players also are playing better for longer; 10 tournaments in 2017 were won by Langer, Couples or Tom Lehman, each of whom was 57 or older.
Brandt Jobe broke through for his first win in 2017, at the Principal Charity Classic. He was almost right on the average; it was his 32nd start.
“I will tell you my first year, 2016, I was very surprised at how good the play was,” Jobe said. “I was surprised how low they shoot on these courses. The quality of play … I don’t think anyone understands how good it really is from top to bottom.”
Of the ballyhooed rookie class last season of Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, David Toms and Steve Flesch, only Kelly was able to make it to the winner’s circle. It came in his 13th event. He was the fastest player to get his first win since Broadhurst. Eight players have won for the first time since the Englishman did, and the average number of starts for that group before breaking through is 43.
Stephen Ames is part of that group. He won for the first time in 2017 after 48 starts.
“The guys take some time to get comfortable out here,” Ames said. “Most of them aren’t transferring straight onto this Tour like Jerry (Kelly). Everybody else had some time off in between. They don’t have that competitive edge.”
It’s an interesting point regarding Kelly. He was, in fact, playing a full PGA TOUR schedule right up until the time her turned 50. He played 23 times on the PGA TOUR as recently as 2016, and he finished 72nd in the FedExCup standings, too. He had five top 25s, including a runner-up finish at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.
His last win had come in 2009 before he won for the first time on PGA TOUR Champions. Toms won even more recently than that, at the 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He also was competitive on the PGA TOUR through 2016, when he made 19 starts and had four top 25s, including a runner-up finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Toms now has 23 starts under his belt on PGA TOUR Champions, with a best finish of third. His rookie season really wasn’t what he or anyone else anticipated, but he seemed to start putting it all together during the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs, when he finished T18, solo third and T4. Toms opened the 2018 season with a sponsor’s exemption into the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, and he posted a solo third. Behind only champion Kelly and Colin Montgomerie.
No one would be surprised if Toms picks up his first win on PGA TOUR Champions in the next seven events, right on the magic number of 30.
The only thing holding Stricker back, in all likelihood, is his schedule. The Wisconsin native rarely loaded up his schedule in his PGA TOUR prime, and he played only six times in his debut season on PGA TOUR Champions. But he had three top-three finishes, including nearly joining Jimenez as a winner in his first start when he came in second at the Cologuard Classic.
This year’s rookie classic doesn’t have quite the history or marquee names of last year’s class. Former European Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke is the biggest name, but he won’t turn 50 until Aug. 14. Chris DiMarco (August), Len Mattiace (already 50) and Charlie Rymer (already 50) are the other headliners.
At least for them the pressure to win early won’t quite be there. As last year’s rookies found out, it takes a little while to get adjusted, and these guys still can play.
Since 2014, here are the number of starts players logged before claiming their first victories
Name Year of first win No. of starts before first win Colin Montgomerie 2014 17 Scott Dunlap 2014 15 Wes Short Jr.
2014 19 Paul Goydos 2014 4 Lee Janzen
2015 7 Marco Dawson
2015 20 Ian Woosnam 2015 20 Jerry Smith 2015 13 Billy Andrade 2015 37 Duffy Waldorf 2015 72 Woody Austin 2016 27 Jesper Parnevik
2016 21 Scott McCarron 2016 16 Paul Broadhurst 2016 1 Joe Durant 2016 47 Gene Sauers
2016 85 Carlos Franco
2016 24 Stephen Ames 2017 48 John Daly 2017 21 Brandt Jobe 2017 31 Jerry Kelly 2017 12 Kevin Sutherland 2017 77
Brandt Jobe earns first PGA TOUR Champions title at Principal Charity