Are the courses getting too easy, or are the old fellows getting too good?
Rancho Park Golf Course, which for many years withstood the assault of PGA Tour players, is staggering under a barrage of birdies from the Senior PGA Tour.
On a perfect day for golf Friday, Jim Albus, Jim Colbert and Larry Zeigler fired eight-under-par 63s to share a one-shot lead after the first round of the $650,000 Ralphs Senior Classic.
Sub-par rounds were the order of the day. George Archer, the tournament winner last week at Sacramento, shot a seven-under 64, and Al Geiberger shot a 65.
Archer, who had eight birdies, most of them on putts in the nine- to 18-foot foot range, thinks the low scores can be attributed mainly to two factors.
"In the first place the course is in ideal shape and the warm weather makes the ball fly," Archer said. "The other reason is, the senior golfers get better every year. Instead of contented seniors, they play like hungry kids."
Albus, a former club pro who won the senior Players Championship last year and is 12th on the money list in 1993, can be considered an authority on Rancho's toughness.
"When I attended UCLA in the '60s, I played here at Rancho," Albus said. "The course is almost the same as it was 30 years ago. I never thought it was easy. The best I ever did was a 68.
"But, that's the rub. While the course has stayed the same, the players, the clubs and the balls have improved. Unless you make the courses tougher, too, the scores, especially under such ideal circumstances, will naturally be lower."
Rancho, playing to 6,307 yards and a par 71, yielded 53 rounds under par. Jerry Barber, who turned 76 in April, shot a 70.
It was Chi Chi Rodriguez who suggested that someone might shoot a 59 this week.
"I knew par was in trouble when I shot five under par and didn't even earn a nickel in the pro-am," said Rodriguez, who turns 58 today and by way of celebration shot a 68. "Somebody has a chance at breaking 60."
Most of the leaders believe it could take a score of 20 under par to win if the weather remains warm and the greens soft.
Of the leaders, the only surprise is Ziegler. The St. Louis pro has only one senior victory and that was in 1991. He finished seventh last week, but had only one round under 70 in the previous 20.
"It was my putting, today," he said. "I had a 30-footer and a 20-footer and made everything I should have except a two-foot birdie try on four. I don't often putt that well."
Colbert, who has not played very well since winning the Players Championship in June in Michigan, had eight birdies and no bogeys for his second consecutive 63.
"I never shot back-to-back 63s in my life before," he said. "Of course, the one (in Thursday's pro-am) didn't count."
An amazing performance was turned in by Jim Dent, the senior tour's longest hitter. Dent was three over par after five holes. After 13, he was five under par. During his sizzling eight-hole stretch, he was eight under par. He had an eagle, six birdies and a par and finished with a 66.
Lee Trevino, who needs another tournament title to surpass $1 million for the third time in four years, shot a 68 and was among the leaders until he pulled a drive out of bounds on the 13th and took a double bogey.
Dave Stockton is the leading money winner by $38,000 over Bob Charles. Both shot four-under-par 67s.