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SPORTS WEEKEND

Kite and Wadkins Are Adjusting to the Senior Circuit

March 03, 2000|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's tough to be a rookie in any sport, and it's no different on the Senior PGA Tour. But high-profile senior tour rookies Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins are finding the adjustments are much different when you're a 50-year-old rookie.

They still have the competitive drive required for the long, successful careers they had on the PGA Tour. Many expect that drive and the success it breeds to transfer to the 50-and-over circuit.

But the senior tour offers a relaxed environment and slower pace, where winning, while still important, isn't necessarily paramount. Many tour veterans want it to stay that way.

Kite and Wadkins, playing today through Sunday in the Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach Country Club, are trying to keep their competitive juices flowing without disrupting the tour's status quo.

"The competition is more intense on the regular tour, there's no question about that," said Kite, a 19-time winner on the PGA Tour. "You've got more players and it's a little bit more--I won't say life and death--but out here it's a little more lower key."

That's not to say winning isn't important on the senior tour, it's just not as important. Telling tall tales in groups on the driving range, snapping off quick one-liners to the galleries and sticking around for a beer at the 19th hole also come into play.

"It's more like what the PGA Tour was like when I first started in the early or mid-'70s, before it became such a business," Kite said. "It's fun, it really is. It's part of the thing that maybe the regular tour has lost a little bit."

Kite, Wadkins and Tom Watson, also a senior tour rookie but not playing in Newport Beach, have won a combined 74 PGA Tour tournaments, 10 major championships and have each served as a Ryder Cup captain.

Watson and Wadkins already have won on the senior tour, raising a few eyebrows among tour veterans.

"The senior tour is kind of have a good time, let's have some fun, joke a little bit," said John Jacobs, a six-year senior tour veteran. "I hope it doesn't [become] like the other tour, where the only camaraderie you see is between the agents and the players."

Since the senior tour has a minimum age requirement of 50, its players are closer in age and therefore less likely to bolt a locker room after a round, as is commonplace on the PGA Tour.

"I'm not going to be socializing with some of the guys on the regular tour because I've got kids older than they are," Wadkins said. "Out here, everybody is a grandfather."

But Wadkins isn't so sure these grandfathers are as laid-back as they seem. He points out that the senior tour has smaller fields and fewer exempt players. While that makes for closer friendships, it also breeds competition.

"I think these guys are extremely competitive, in some ways even more so because it's always the same guys every week," Wadkins said. "You still want to beat these guys."

And with players such as Kite, Wadkins and Watson joining Bruce Fleisher and Hale Irwin, that desire may become stronger.

"Don't get me wrong," Kite said. "These guys still like to win. I didn't mean to imply that the competition that you have on the regular tour doesn't transfer over here. It's just maybe a little less intense."

Times staff writer Martin Beck contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Toshiba Senior Classic

* Where: Newport Beach Country Club

(6,584 yards, par 71)

* When: Today through Sunday.

* Purse: $1.3 million.

* Winner's share: $195,000.

* TV: ESPN (today, noon; Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.)

* Last year: Gary McCord won his first tournament in 385 PGA and Senior PGA tour starts. He defeated Allen Doyle, John Jacobs and Al Geiberger on the fifth playoff hole.

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