Newcomers won’t have easy road
September 11, 2019
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- September 11, 2019
- Only three players since 2010 won in their PGA TOUR Champions debut. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
PGA TOUR Champions is in the second-longest drought it has seen without a player winning in his debut.
It was commonplace in the 1980s and in the first decade of the 2000s.
But it has happened only three times since 2010. The last player to win in his first Champions event was Miguel Angel Jimenez, at what is now the Mitsbushi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf outside Atlanta, in 2014. The other players to win in their maiden voyages were Jeff Maggert, also in 2014, and Rocco Mediate in 2013.
Maggert and Mediate agree that their club, of which there are 18 members, could have some new faces over the course of the next nine months, when no less than five major championship winners will turn 50.
Or, as each also said, it might not. Because winning out here is hardly determined by one’s PGA TOUR resume.
“They’re all great players, and they’re going to be great for our Tour,” Mediate said Tuesday. “But no one who has been out here five or 10 years is going to be scared. If anything, it’s just going to make everyone better.”
The first of those handful of new faces makes his debut this week when two-time major champion Angel Cabrera joins the field for the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club just outside Flint, Michigan. The Argentine won the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters.
He’ll be joined shortly by:
Ernie Els (who turns 50 on Oct. 17), two-time U.S. Open champions (1994, ’97), two-time British Open champion (2002, 2012);
Jim Furyk (May 12, 2020), 2003 U.S. Open;
Mike Weir (May 12, 2020), 2003 Masters;
Phil Mickelson (June 16, 2020), three-time Masters champion (2004, ’06, ’10), PGA Champion (2005), British Open champion (2013).
That’s five guys with 11 major titles. No one is sure how much Mickelson will play as he won on PGA TOUR as recently as February at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Maggert and Mediate both attributed their victorious debuts to playing steadily on PGA TOUR until close to the time they were eligible for PGA TOUR Champions.
“I think the difficulty now is some guys just aren’t playing as much into their late 40s,” Maggert said Tuesday. “I finished second at THE PLAYERS Championship when I was 49, so I still was playing at a pretty high level on the regular tour. When you haven’t been playing competitively for three, four, five years it’s hard to come out here and win.
“I think when the Champions Tour started it was more of an exhibition tour. Now it’s really competitive. The top 30, 40 are playing really good golf.”
There are subtle differences to playing the Champions Tour, too. Non-major tournaments are three rounds instead of four. One bad round can put a player out of any chance to win. Every Champions Tour player says their events are sprints, not marathons.
“Guys who think they’re gonna come out and tear the roof off this place are absolutely insane,” Mediate said. “It’s not gonna happen. Very rarely.
“Look at some of the guys who have come out recently. Vijay (Singh), it took him a little while. David Toms, took him a little while. These are phenomenal players. … I didn’t think I was gonna win. It wasn’t even in my mind. I was just trying not to make a fool of myself. If you didn’t have your playing privileges for six or seven years … you don’t forget, but it takes a while to remember.”
That’s certainly another contributing factor. Maybe not for Mickelson, but Furyk hasn’t won since 2015. Els hasn’t won since 2012. Cabrera hasn’t won since 2014. It’s hard to know how a player will react with a lead down the stretch when he hasn’t had his feet to the fire for such a long time.
“These guys will just elevate our Tour even higher than it is,” Mediate said. “The better the players they make us better. Tiger made us better. Period. I wanted him in the field because you had to play better. It’s as simple as that.
“These guys will love it. It’s the same competition. You work just as hard. If you don’t, you’ll find out what happens. Phil may come out here and win 10 in a row. Who knows? It’s just not cut and dried. You have Bernhard (Langer) at 62 still busting everybody up. It’s still about the lowest score and we have a deep, deep Tour. A lot deeper than people think.”
It wouldn’t be a shock to see one of these guys join the debut club. Or would it?
“If they come out and win their first one it wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Mediate said. “If they come out and don’t win for five or six months, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”