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ORANGE COUNTY GOLF NOTEBOOK / MARTIN BECK

Path to Senior Tour Leads Through Rough

July 22, 1996|Martin Beck

Orange County's two representatives at the U.S. Senior Open had remarkably similar experiences early this month at Canterbury Golf Club near Cleveland.

Gary Dixon of Fountain Valley and Robert Carver of Fullerton independently said they were amazed by how well players were treated at the tournament.

Both could have been treated better by the course. Dixon shot 79-78 and missed the cut by seven strokes. Carver finished five shots worse, shooting 83-79.

"It was the hardest course I've ever played," Dixon said. "I thought I had played some hard courses in California. After I shot 79 in the first round, I felt terrible, but then I saw Jack Nicklaus shot 77 and I didn't feel that bad."

It was a typical U.S. Open-style layout, Carver told friends at his country club, Hacienda Golf Club in La Habra Heights. "The course had narrow fairways, deep rough and slick greens, other than that it was a piece of cake," he said.

Dixon and Carver each were playing for the first time in a significant professional tournament after quite a few years' effort. Their separate quests to play professionally as seniors shows what a difficult undertaking that can be.

* Carver actually has given up on professional golf--he is amid a two-year process to regain his amateur status. After about six years playing in the senior professional division on the Golden State Tour, Carver made his decision after last year's Senior Open qualifying tournament.

"I missed it by quite a bit and I just thought, 'Well I don't need to do this any more as a professional,' " Carver said. "And I couldn't play at any club tournaments at Hacienda. I was kind of in no man's land."

He remains in competitive limbo, eligible to play only in open events. But his presence at Canterbury should keep going until he's an amateur again sometime next year.

Carver played college golf for Colorado in the late 1950s and continued to be an avid golfer during a career in the Air Force and as an American Airlines pilot. He won the American Airlines championship the last three years he competed. He also played in the California state amateur in 1983.

But professional golf is a more difficult proposition. Carver attempted to qualify for a senior tour event in Michigan, but didn't come close. He won a couple of Golden State Tour events, but as he neared 60 (he's 61), it became clear to him he should stop playing for money.

* Dixon started playing golf relatively late, after college. A basketball standout at Anaheim High, he played four years under scholarship at Pepperdine.

Eventually he became a solid enough golfer to win the club championship several times at Mile Square Golf Course. As he neared 50, he started thinking about the senior tour, so he took a leave of absence from his job as a teacher at Los Alamitos High--he was also golf coach for more than 20 years.

Dixon, 56, made the finals of qualifying school in 1990, but missed the cut. He has continued as a professional since, playing mostly on the Golden State Tour. This year he is the 10th-leading senior money winner with about $3,500 in earnings.

Dixon has given up on the dream to be a touring professional.

"You have to face facts," he said. "When you get out there, it's like going from Little League to the major leagues. It's not that easy."

*

Carver finished second to Dixon in Senior Open qualifying at Friendly Hills Country Club helped by a hole in one on the 183-yard eighth hole. It was his second ace; the first, in a member-guest tournament at Western Hills in 1980, earned him a new car.

Notes

Cleveland Golf, a Cypress-based golf club maker, announced it will sponsor a professional mini-tour based in Orlando, Fla. The Cleveland Golf Tour, formerly Future Majorz Golf Tour, will start in September and offer tournaments year-round in Florida. Cleveland Golf hopes to eventually expand to offer summertime play in the the Midwest and West.

The Orange County Golf Notebook runs weekly. Readers are encouraged to make suggestions. Call (714) 966-5904, fax (714) 966-5904 or e-mail Martin.Beck@latimes.com

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