A Lot of Golf Left in Charles : Senior Golf: Playing as well as ever at the age of 53, he can wrap up another money title with a win at Ojai this week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Bob Charles joined the PGA Tour in 1962 he had two strikes against him. First, he came from New Zealand, a country more famous for producing sheep than golfers. Even worse, he was a left-hander in a game dominated by right-handers.

Charles overcame both obstacles. Not only did he become the first left-hander to win a tour event, he made his country golf conscious while he earned fame and fortune.

Now 53, Charles is not just the best left-hander ever to play the game, he is the best player on the Senior PGA Tour. Already this year he has won more money than he did during 15 years on the regular tour.

He will attempt to make the $350,000 GTE Classic, which will be played at Ojai Valley Inn and Country Club starting Thursday, his fifth victory of the year and a virtual lock on his second consecutive money title.

"I've already played 32 tournaments," Charles said. "I'm tired. When Orville Moody made his move to catch me, I had to come back from New Zealand and start to play again.

"I have a chance to win back-to-back titles. The chances are I won't have that chance again. Some of the greats of golf, including Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, will soon be eligible. I just have to forget that I'm tired. It scares me to do battle with Orville. He's a tough competitor."

Charles, who won four tournaments on the PGA Tour and dozens more around the world, including the 1963 British Open, earned $539,118 in tour money.

In setting a senior record last year, Charles earned $533,929. Both Charles ($592,396) and Moody ($577,285) have broken that record this season.

After the Ojai event, there is one tournament remaining, at Kaanapali in Hawaii where Trevino may make his debut with the 50 and older set.

Charles led the money list by only $152 when he rushed back to play at Las Vegas Nov. 10-12. He finished in a three-way tie for first, but after losing the playoff to Charles Coody, he had a $15,111 lead over Moody. A victory at Ojai might clinch the title.

"It isn't the money," said Moody, who has been battling a back problem. "Neither one of us needs the money. It's just the competition. When you get this close to being No. 1, you want to be No. 1.

"The back is getting better and I should be ready to make a run at No. 1."

The money champion will receive a $112,500 bonus from Nabisco. He will also win golfer of the year honors. It is fitting that these two are battling it out.

Moody and Charles dominate the statistics. Moody is the all-round leader, although he does not lead in any statistic. Charles has the best scoring average (69.76), and also leads in par breakers and putting.

Moody, always one of the game's top shotmakers, was once one of the golf's worst putters. But now he is a close second to Charles. The turnaround came when Moody started using the long-handled putter. The pendulum swing has enabled him to conquer a lifetime of yips.

When he won the U.S. Senior Open in June, Moody credited the long putter and his daughter/caddy Michele, who helped him read the putts.

In other years Michele has caddied for her father only during the summer. In the fall she has gone back to school. Not this time. Instead of entering college she is still caddying.

When asked about it, Moody said, "I don't know what she can learn in college that will enable her to earn $75,000 a year."

By the time he became eligible for the seniors in March, 1986, he was spending more time driving a tractor on his ranch in New Zealand. His last victory had been in 1978 in New Zealand.

"I had no thought of ever playing again, except for fun," Charles said. "But when it became obvious the new tour would be a success, I started getting interested.

"I had always stayed in shape, so the only problem was how I would react to playing competitively. That didn't prove to be a problem and here I am playing more than I ever did on the regular tour. I think that has something to do with why I drive the ball farther than I did 25 years ago."

Ojai doesn't figure to be a two-man battle. All the top money winners for this year except Gary Player will be on hand. Player will be in South Africa until January.

Coody, who won his first senior event at Las Vegas, defending champion Harold Henning (he won at Wood Ranch), Chi Chi Rodriguez, Al Geiberger, Dave Hill, Miller Barber and Larry Mowry are also in the field.

Although he hasn't won a tournament this year, Arnold Palmer will also be there. Palmer's presence assures a tournament that the fans will be there. Trevino will be 50 one day before the end of the tournament. According to the rules, a golfer, to be eligible, must reach 50 on the Tuesday before the tournament opens.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°