The Senior PGA Tour looks a little different this year with a new TV contract, a new bonus pool of
$2.1 million and a new attitude about course setup. What some tour officials would like to see, however, are some new faces in the fields to spice it up.
The buzz around the tour, which kicks off its West Coast swing this week at Newport Beach Country Club, is that changing the minimum age requirement from 50 to 45 would boost its sagging popularity.
Established senior tour players, who would have to approve such a change, are against the idea because it would significantly disrupt the tour's competitive balance.
The issue arises every few years, but one tour official said the change is needed now more than ever.
"I'm a big fan of dropping the age," said the official, who requested anonymity. "The senior tour reinvents itself every year with new players, but the number of big names you have is significantly lower than it was in the past. We need a couple of big names to come out to reinvigorate the tour. I hope it's visited a little more closely."
Mark O'Meara turns 45 next January, Curtis Strange is 46, Peter Jacobsen is 47, Ben Crenshaw and Bruce Lietzke are 49 and Jay Haas is 47. There is little doubt that these players would infuse the tour with more fan and media interest.
There is also little doubt that players such as O'Meara, only three years removed from winning two majors and the PGA Tour player of the year, would devour large chunks of the $59-million senior tour pie.
Those most affected would be players at or over age 60 who would no longer be competitive with the addition of 45-year-olds. Players such as Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez, who still make enough money to make playing worth their while, probably would be reduced to playing for a pittance.
"You'd have some guys who are closing in on 60 that wouldn't be that competitive, and it would kind of be defeating the purpose of why this tour was started in the first place," said Larry Nelson, 53, the 2000 Senior PGA Tour player of the year. "It's supposed to give the guys who left the regular tour and were stars a competitive place to play."
Crenshaw, who acknowledges that he's looking forward to turning 50 in January, said it would have been a better idea to start the tour with a minimum age of 45 than to try to change it now. "I hope they don't," Crenshaw said during the Nissan Open last week at Riviera Country Club. "I would miss 4-5 years."
But he also said that the idea has merits, considering he hasn't felt competitive on the PGA Tour since he turned 45.
"I've been beat up for five years out here," he said. "It's a struggle. This is a young man's game. You don't feel quite as competitive as you once did."
FLOYD BLOWS WEST
For years, you could count on three things during the PGA Tour stop at Doral Resort and Spa in Miami: water, sand and Raymond Floyd.
But this year Floyd, who redesigned the Blue Course at Doral, is skipping the tournament for the first time since 1966 and is playing in the Toshiba Senior Classic this week at Newport Beach Country Club.
Floyd, who recently moved from Miami to Palm Beach, Fla., said the decision wasn't that difficult. A change in sponsorship of the Doral event played a role, as did his commitment to play the SBC Senior Classic next week at Valencia Country Club. Floyd is sponsored by SBC.
"I was coming out here anyway, and it's a long trip to come out here for one tournament from where I live," Floyd said. "Plus, I can't compete with those boys anymore."
The PGA Tour's ShotLink system, a suddenly controversial computerized scoring system designed to provide detailed information about every shot by every player during PGA Tour events, will debut in a scaled-down version this week during the Genuity Championships at Doral.
The key missing element will be club selection on each shot, something tour players and caddies have had issues with.
Tiger Woods voiced concerns during the Nissan Open that the system provides too much information and, in turn, flirts with a rules violations because the information would be available on the Internet.
"I don't think it's a very good idea at all," Woods said.
He described a scenario where a player could have a friend in the audience with a hand-held computer that could track which clubs each player has hit on certain shots, then flash the player a sign.
"And there you go, you have the number," Woods said.
Caddies expressed concern that they will be counted on to provide the information to a walking scorer carrying a hand-held computer. They said the process would not only be disruptive, they would not be compensated for the added duties.
Henry Hughes, the PGA Tour chief of operations, said concerns such as those voiced by Woods are among the reasons the system will be implemented in phases.
"The number one concern is not to disrupt the players or caddies," Hughes said. "The scorer might ask for the information at an inopportune time, and caddies are concerned for their players."