The Golden Golfers
PGA professionals over 40 were once judged over the hill, but last year eight different players won 13 times on the tour
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006
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On Sunday afternoon, in a playoff with Tour stalwart Jim Furyk, Short tapped in on the second extra hole for a par that gave him his first victory, at age 41. He was the fifth player to gain his first PGA Tour victory at Las Vegas—a group that includes Tiger Woods. "Well, I'm not pretending I'm going to have a career like Tiger, but I proved to myself what I set out to do," says Short.
With that, Short tapped his chest over his heart. "It's all here, you know. It's all here."
Unlike Short, players like Kenny Perry, 45, and Brad Faxon, 44, have enjoyed long, successful PGA Tour careers. Perry, victorious twice last season, at Bay Hill and Colonial, has won nine PGA Tour events, six of them since he turned 40. Faxon won the Buick Championship in Connecticut last year, his second victory since turning 40. Neither is surprised at his continuing success or particularly concerned about remaining competitive with the younger players.
"I'm probably on the downside of my PGA Tour career, but I can still play some," says Perry, a real down-home Kentuckian. "These younger players are great, no doubt about it. But am I intimidated about playing against them? No. I'm too old for that. And besides, I know I can win once in a while."
Faxon found himself against a young South African, 30-year-old Tjaart van der Walt, in a playoff at the Buick last August, and won with a birdie on the first hole. Pretty good for someone playing on a bad right knee that required surgery shortly after the tournament. Faxon has won eight times over his career, relying on a strong short game and a marvelous putting touch. With characteristic honesty, Faxon says: "You know, I haven't been a consistent winner out here, but I've been pretty successful. If you can putt, you will have a chance on those weeks you're hitting the ball well. It doesn't matter what age you are. I've maintained my short game pretty well. Doesn't seem like it's deteriorated with age any."
Like several veteran players, Faxon holds a charity golf tournament; the event, which takes place in his native Rhode Island, is co-hosted by fellow Tour player Billy Andrade. Last year, the charity tournament fell on the same days as the American qualifying tournament for the British Open. Faxon wasn't exempt into the Open, and couldn't play the American qualifier. But the golfer, who is devoutly faithful to the history and tradition of the game, didn't want to miss an Open at St Andrews, so he flew to Scotland to play in the 36-hole final qualifier. He made it and finished 23rd in the championship. In November, he was given the Payne Stewart Award for long-standing service to the game.
"This game has been really good to me, and here I am in my 40s still getting something out of it," says Faxon. "There's really no other sport where you can be at the top so long. I love it."
Another veteran who enjoyed a stellar 2005 season was Fred Funk, a former University of Maryland golf coach. Funk added his seventh and by far most prestigious Tour victory of his career when he won the Players Championship in March. He turned 49 in June, then suffered an upper rib cage injury in July that bothered him for the rest of the season. He still managed to end the year with a splash and a lot of cash, wearing a skirt and thumping the daylights out of Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Annika Sorenstam in the Merrill Lynch Skins Game.
Funk has consistently been among the shortest of hitters on the PGA Tour, meaning he has a tough time competing in majors and on many courses where length is more important than accuracy. When he played in the Skins Game in November, Tiger Woods kidded Funk about his offer to wear a skirt if he was outdriven by Sorenstam. The LPGA standout outdrove Funk on the third hole, got a pink flowered skirt out of her golf bag and gave it to Funk, who played out the hole wearing it. It was all staged for television, of course, but it was memorable good fun.
"It was really a great year altogether, though the injury prevented me from playing the way I wanted to in the summer and fall and that was pretty frustrating," says Funk. "With the way they are lengthening golf courses out here, it's getting more difficult for me to compete. There are so many that are just bomber friendly where players can hit it as far as they like and not get penalized. Augusta has already gotten too long for me. My game is about keeping it in play, hitting greens and making some putts. If I make a lot of them one week, I can win. That's what happened at the Players."
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