INDIAN WELLS — Unlike old soldiers, old professional golfers don't fade away.
They just keep on playing and keep on making money.
The day may come when there is a Century Tour, in which the golfers will be 100 or over.
For now, though, there is the Super Seniors. The newest member of golf's booming tour business is for the 60-and-over set. The first tournament was staged as part of the $300,000 Vintage Invitational, a regular event on the mushrooming Senior Tour.
While the high winds bothered most of his pursuers, Howie Johnson, shooting a one-under-par 71 on the Mountain Course at Vintage Country Club Saturday, won the top prize of $8,200 with a 54-hole total of 216.
This is where the fun began. The Super Seniors is so entangled with the Senior Tour that Johnson, though he can't collect the top prize of $40,500 in the 72-hole Vintage tournament which ends today, he can win the tournament and prevent someone else from collecting the big money.
Johnson is committed to the Super Seniors, so if he wins the Vintage championship today, the $40,500 goes into the pension fund. The 61-year-old pro from nearby Rancho Mirage is in position to prevent some member of the regular Seniors Tour from winning the grand prize.
It could be third-round leader Bob Charles, the left-hander from New Zealand. Charles, who was in a three-way tie with defending champion Dale Douglass and Bobby Nichols after two rounds, is the only golfer in the tournament under par. He shot a one-over 73 in the wind for a 54-hole total of 215.
In addition to being a shot ahead of Johnson, Charles is two shots in front of Douglass, who double-bogeyed the 17th after hitting his tee shot into the water, and shot a 75. Nichols shot a 76 and was tied with Bruce Crampton, Butch Baird and Walt Zembriski, at 218.
Contention runs deep and it includes Arnold Palmer, as well as Chi Chi Rodriguez, Gary Player and Bob Toski. They are at 220, five shots back. Anybody could win it if the windy conditions, which have hampered play in two of the three rounds, continue.
Only two pros bettered par in Saturday's third round. Both Johnson and Gay Brewer shot one-under 71s. Baird was one of the six who shot par. On Thursday, when the wind was even worse, up to 40 m.p.h., Baird shot an 80.
While Johnson and the others who elected to play in the Super Seniors understood that they weren't eligible for the $40,500 prize, the younger seniors didn't.
Douglass, asked if, in the event Johnson won the tournament and nobody collected top prize, said: "They will hear from my lawyer." Later, he wanted it known that he didn't even have a lawyer.
He, Charles and 1985 champion Peter Thomson all said they thought that the Super Seniors should be a bonus.
"If Howie wins it tomorrow, he should get the $40,500, and what he won today should be a bonus," Douglass said. "I hope the Super Seniors will succeed, but I think that should just be extra money for the 60 and over.
"I think, that if Howie wins tomorrow and nobody collects the big prize, it will be unusual. My guess is that it is the only time that will ever happen."
Johnson said he understood that he wouldn't qualify for the big prize, but that he was committed to making the Super Seniors a success.
"We are hoping it will become a success," he said. "I talked it over with my wife and we agreed this is the way to go.
"Of course, I will play tomorrow. There is a lot of money in the Vantage Cup competition, and I have Bruce Crampton as a partner. Also, if I win, the $40,500 will count in my lifetime money winnings.
"Arnie was talking to me in the parking lot today and saying what a good thing the Super Seniors was. I said, 'Yes, Arnie, but there's only $650,000 in it now, but by the time you get there it will be $10 million."'
Palmer, who will be 60 on Sept. 10, 1989, is credited with being largely responsible for the success of both the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour. When he joined the Senior Tour in 1980, there were only two tournaments and $250,000 in purses. This year, there are 35 tournaments worth $8,700,000.
"Seriously," Johnson said, "I don't think Arnie will ever join the Super. He's just too much of a competitor."
Johnson pointed out that he had a chance to win this tournament last year. "I had a shot at it until I went sour on the back nine and shot a 40," he said. "I like my chances better tomorrow if it's windy.
"I've spent a lot of time in Houston and Galveston, where the wind really blows. I also studied and played with the best wind player of them all--Jimmy Demaret."
Douglass likes his chances of repeating as champion. While he lost a chance to go into the final day tied for first when he hit the ball in the water on the 144-yard, par-3 17th, it could have been worse. Harold Henning hit four into the water and had a 12 on the hole. The nine-over-par sent him soaring to an 81, when he seemed headed for a 72.