Spotlight back on Irwin

There was a bit of an awkward silence when I delivered the final question to the great Hale Irwin during a phone interview last week.

Irwin was asked when the last time he won on the Champions Tour, for golfers 50 and older.

For a moment I thought he would tell me he was done with winning and content with all that he had accomplished. Perish that thought.

"It's been several years," Irwin said of his last win, which was five years ago. "I'm anxious to try to get back in the winner's circle. I know that there isn't much ahead of me. Winning those tournaments is great fun. I'd like to catch it again. If I can get the chance to get into contention, that's all you can ask. It's certainly a lot of fun."

Winning never gets old. That's the slogan being used to promote the 18th annual Toshiba Classic, which begins with pro-am Monday. First-round play starts Friday.

Irwin can definitely relate to that slogan. He has the most wins on the Champions Tour with 45. What's remarkable is the 66-year-old has 43 runner-up finishes.

He likes to play in the Toshiba Classic. He's the tournament's only two-time winner.

"Toshiba has been very good to me," he said.

Irwin won the Toshiba in 1998 and 2002. Both years he went on to be named Champions Tour Player of the Year.

Irwin is one of several intriguing storylines amid this Toshiba Classic, which will have another great field that features Fred Couples, Tom Watson and Corey Pavin among other greats.

Irwin's sure to provide highlights this year. He'll be the featured speaker on Tuesday's Breakfast With A Champion at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa. What a treat.

Irwin is open to talk about basically any topic. He was candid with me during the phone interview.

He'll speak his mind.

Does he follow football?

"College," said Irwin, who was also a standout defensive back at Colorado. "I think the game at that level it's still got some excitement. The professional athletes kind of turn me off a bit with the stuff they do. Our whole approach in sports it seems is that you get put so high on the pedestal in college. It's a little hard to take some time; and with the boosters helping out so much it can ruin a program. But I still prefer the college game."

Football was a big part of Irwin's life. Nowadays it seems more and more young athletes specialize in a sport rather than compete in multiple sports.

Irwin acknowledge that, but disagreed with that approach.

"I try to encourage every parent and every kid to be multi-sport oriented," he said. "If you don't have the kids play other sports I think you are doing a disservice to the child. Becoming a pro in a sport, the potential of that happening is so slim. Denying the kids for other sports is short-changing them."

Irwin said football helped him. He was a two-time All-Big Eight defensive back. He also excelled in golf, of course, winning the NCAA title in 1967.

"By playing football, I realized the benefit it gave me in golf," he said. "The skill sets I had in golf were raw. The skill set I had in other sports was athletic. I had the discipline to stay with [golf]. I had that never-give-up attitude. [Football] really helped my development in golf. They weren't going to out-try me. They might beat me in skill, but I was never going to give up."

Irwin continues with that style. He also showed that with his epic wins at theU.S. Openin 1974, '79 and '90. He won't shy away from talking about those on Tuesday morning.

Recently, Irwin has showed that competitive fire.

For three years prior to 2011, he was in a funk. But last year, he broke out of it. He finished 27th on the final money list. It was his best showing since 2007. He is No. 2 all-time on the money list on the Champions Tour.

He was in contention at the 2011 Senior PGA Championship, where he finished fourth and became the oldest player to finish in the top five at a major championship at the Senior PGA Championship.

Irwin admits age played a big factor in his fall before 2011. But he said he found confidence last year and has a "good spring back in my step."

"My confidence had wavered the last few years," Irwin said. "Last year showed what confidence and positive thinking can do."

Who knows, it just might lead to another victory at the Toshiba Classic.

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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