Clash of the Generations
The 2004 PGA Tour will continue to be a battleground between the Young Guns and the pop guns
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Craig Stadler: Pop Gun
The same week Curtis was winning the British Open in extraordinary fashion, Craig Stadler was doing the same thing at the B.C. Open in Endicott, New York. Stadler had turned 50 in June and the week before the B.C. Open he won his first Champions Tour event, The Senior Players Championship. Not having an exemption to play in the British Open, he elected to take a spot in Endicott, where his son Kevin was playing. And the Pop Gun won, shooting a final-round 63.
It was his first PGA Tour victory since the 1996 Nissan Open and it surprised him almost as much as it did the Young Guns he was playing against. "I can still hit it out there pretty much with everybody," says Stadler. "My problem has always been getting the ball in the hole. I just don't make enough putts. That week I hit them and the hole kept jumping in the way. The last round it jumped in the way a whole lot."
Putting is one of the first things to deteriorate as a player gets older. In Stadler's case, it started to deteriorate when he was at the peak of his game, right after he won the 1982 Masters and three other tournaments that year. Then he went eight years with only one victory. In the '90s he won four times, but late in the decade he was showing up less and less on the leaderboard.
With his Champions Tour eligibility looming, Stadler worked harder on his short game. With typically droll humor, Stadler placed the key to his success elsewhere. "Turn 50 and get a good bottle of wine and you'll play better," he says.
Adam Scott: Young Gun
Everywhere Adam Scott goes in the game of golf, Greg Norman is staring him in the face. From pictures on the walls of locker rooms to names inscribed on trophies, Scott takes inspiration from Norman's career and advice from the Great White Shark himself.
This 23-year-old Australian is taking a career path that parallels Norman's rise to prominence. He's playing both the European Tour and the PGA Tours. On the European Tour he is hardening himself to difficult and often drastically changing playing conditions. On the PGA Tour he is honing his competitive edge against the best players in the world. The strategy is paying off. After winning three times in Europe over two seasons, Scott won the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston last year, with one Tiger Woods in the field.
"It seems that everywhere we go in Europe, Greg's name is on the champions list," says Scott. "There's Greg's name on this one and there's Greg's name on that one. I thought I'd kind of like to really set that same presence over there that Greg did and have a lot of wins. Greg means the world to me. I have modeled my golf game after him since I was seven, eight years old."
It was Norman, along with famed golf coach Butch Harmon and Scott's longtime coach, Tom Crow, who suggested a "forget about America" strategy. "They said, ‘Let's go to Europe and get some good grounding over there, says Scott. "That makes me appreciate a lot more what is over here and how good it is."
Peter Jacobsen: Pop Gun
This Pop Gun is going to turn 50 in March and become eligible for the Champions Tour. But expect him to play in several PGA Tour events, especially after his stirring, if not to say shocking victory in the Greater Hartford Open last July.
Jacobsen had not won since a hot streak at the beginning of the 1995 season when he won at Pebble Beach and San Diego. But by the following year his game had deteriorated to the point where, home in Portland, Oregon, with a bad back, he had to give up his caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, to the beckoning of a superstar, Tiger Woods. Jacobsen struggled to make it into the top 125 money winners each season, though occasionally showed a flash of brilliance. But on the whole, he was doing a better imitation of golfers (Arnold Palmer, Craig Stadler, and Fred Couples are comedic parts of his exhibitions) than he was of being a PGA Tour player.
Then he shot a 63 in the opening round at Hartford, and the memory bank kicked in. For a man who spent more time working on his events management company than he did playing competitive golf, this was heady stuff, and he knew he had the head for it with 26 years of being a PGA Tour pro. "I thought I had another win in me, I really did," says Jacobsen. "I've been so motivated by Craig Stadler's play, Kenny Perry's play, Tom Watson's play. The key out here is not [to] limit yourself with either inexperience or age. I don't think about age when I tee it up. I know Stadler didn't. Ben Curtis didn't at the British Open. I didn't think that coming down the stretch on Sunday."
Jacobsen thought what all Pop Guns think, that when there's a chance to win, and they've done it before, they can do it again.
Chad Campbell: Young Gun
How is this for fanfare? Last June, Sports Illustrated put Chad Campbell, a 29-year-old former University of Las Vegas player, on the cover of its magazine. Chad the lad had yet to win a PGA Tour event. In 2002 he had one third-place finish and one fourth. He had won three Nationwide Tour events in 2001 that gave him a "battlefield promotion" to the PGA Tour, where he notched a second-place result. The way his game was maturing, many players saw him as the real deal and were waiting for him to close on it. Sports Illustrated called him "The Next Big Thing."
At the start of 2003 he had two more second-place finishes, then a highly visible runner-up finish at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, where he was denied a chance at a playoff when Shaun Micheel hit his approach to the 18th hole stiff for a birdie and the win.
Campbell failed to get his PGA Tour card at the qualifying school five times. But he was a successful small-tour player, winning 13 times on the Hooters Tour over four seasons. He was taking the route best for him, learning something at every stage along the way. And holding to an ample supply of his small-town upbringing in Andrews, Texas. There is confidence in his game and humility in his demeanor, even after Sports Illustrated turned the spotlight on him. Unlike many of the other Young Guns, he didn't just pop onto the PGA Tour with a bag full of expectations.
"There's guys that you know, kind of came out and the first thing they get right on the PGA Tour, so they don't know anything different," says Campbell. "They don't know how you go to little towns and play not the best of courses and you don't get everything for free like you do out here. Everything is not just given to you."
Certainly victories aren't handed over for free on the Tour, but expect Campbell to be there for the taking.
Fred Couples: Pop Gun