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GOLF / DAN HAFNER : Senior Tour Keeps Getting Tougher

The Senior PGA Tour keeps growing, and the competition keeps getting tougher.

Purses are becoming larger--any group interested in starting a new tournament must begin with a purse of $700,000--and maybe it is because there are so many good players in the 50-and-older set.

Not so long ago, any good player coming off the PGA Tour figured to win a tournament in short order, and usually did. That is no longer the case. Even Raymond Floyd and Jack Nicklaus, relative youngsters, have been unable to dominate.

Three rookies who did fairly well on the regular tour, Tom Weiskopf, Bob Murphy and Calvin Peete, are struggling on the senior tour. It must be pointed out, though, that all have been handicapped by physical problems. That is a fact of life for senior golfers.

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Weiskopf and Murphy have been in contention several times but have not won. Peete, who has a rotator cuff injury in his left shoulder, has played in only three tournaments and had to withdraw after two rounds in the event at Kenmore, Wash., last week.

Weiskopf underwent knee surgery last summer but had recuperated enough in late February to win the Chrysler Cup, an unofficial tournament.

The former Ohio State golfer won 15 tour events before retiring in 1983 to devote time to building courses and doing television commentary.

Last year, he began playing again to prepare himself for the senior tour. Apparently, he overdid it, because he soon needed surgery. And several times this season he has had to back off because of problems with the knee. Now, he says he has no excuses. He has overcome his physical problems.

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Although he has won almost $300,000, he’s still looking for that first victory. He came close in the U.S. Senior Open last month, but after taking the lead briefly in the final round, he lost by a stroke to Nicklaus. He was also second to Mike Hill at Charlotte, N.C. He lost a playoff in the Legends of Golf, also an unofficial event, won by Harold Henning.

“I’m not out here for the money,” Weiskopf said. “I won’t be satisfied until I win a tournament. I am back in good health so I expect to win.”

Murphy, who won five events and more than $1.6 million on the regular tour, has an arthritic back that prevents him from playing more than two weeks in a row. Nevertheless, he has earned $397,000 without winning a tournament. He lost to first-time winner Bob Betley last month in Boston by one shot. He has been second and third twice each.

“I feel it’s only a matter of time before I win,” Murphy said. “I’m not really surprised that it is so tough to win out here. I watched this tour get better and better when I was doing the television.”

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Peete, who has played infrequently on the regular tour since 1989 because of various ailments, turned 50 on July 18. He had 12 victories, including the 1985 Tournament Players Championship, and won $2.3 million on the regular tour.

“I spent 10 years on the regular tour trying to be a role model,” he said. “I spent the last seven learning how to be one. Now I’m on a different stage of the journey to inspire younger kids.”

If the big names have faltered, though, it has been a good year for the lesser lights.

The biggest breakthrough was by Tom Wargo, a rookie who was a club pro at Centralia, Ill. He was the surprise winner of the Senior PGA in April.

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Then, proving it was no fluke, he made the cut in the regular PGA championship when Floyd, Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus didn’t. Wargo shot 283, one under par, and earned $7,058

Then there is Bob Wynn, who finally won in his fourth year as a senior, at Scarborough, N.Y., in early June.

Wynn thus equaled his victory total in 19 years on the regular tour.

Finally, there’s Betley. The long hitter from Idaho, who earned only $4,932 on the regular tour, outlasted Murphy in winning the Bank of Boston senior event Aug. 8. He is in his fourth season as a senior.

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“I used to travel hundreds of miles just to get a chance to win $500,” said the former motorcycle cop whose wife has been his caddie for 15 years.

“I guess all those miles and hard work finally paid off. Next to my wife, it’s my biggest thrill.”

Golf Notes

The Inland Empire amateur championship tournament has been expanded to 36 holes. It will be held Saturday and Sunday at Indian Hills and Jurupa Hills in Riverside. Entry fee is $100. . . . Billy Barty will stage his annual Little People tournament at Indian Wells Sept. 10-12. . . . Brian Pavlet of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Michael Staskus of Los Altos qualified at North Kern Golf Course in Bakersfield for the final of the Chrysler Long Driving contest Oct. 9-10 at Boca Raton, Fla. Pavlet’s best measured 342 yards 8 inches.

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More than 300 amateurs are expected for the Will Jordan Classic Sept. 11-12 at the Costa Mesa Country Club. Play will be over the Los Lagos and Mesa Linda courses. Jim George, winner of the first tournament in 1973, and Bob Knee, the defending champion, are both entered. Other past winners include Scott Simpson, Mark O’Meara and Brian Lindley, U.S. Amateur runner-up in 1981.

Golf has become a status symbol in the Czech Republic’s rush to embrace capitalism. Under 41 years of communism, the sport just about died out. It is back. There are 2,000 registered golfers in the country. The rich are paying more than $3,000 to join a club near Prague that hasn’t been built. . . . Peter Fowler of Australia recently had an eagle and five birdies in a finish at Munich that gave him his only victory in 11 years on the European Tour.


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