It's one thing for a golfer to be booed by the gallery, quite another to be mooed. But there was Robert Landers swinging a sand wedge in the pasture behind his house to a bovine ovation. Landers's Legion—five heifers and a calf—chewed over his follow-through with contented countenances. "Out here, a ball that lands on a cowpatty is not an unplayable lie," said Landers as he hit from a dung heap. "You can tell when your ball hits one 'cause it won't bounce a bit." Has there ever been a more unorthodox chip shot?
Landers was uncowed and unbowed during the Senior PGA Tour qualifying tournament last month in Lutz, Fla. Wearing sneakers, lugging a garage-sale carry bag and wielding a set of glue-and-go clubs he'd bought from his cousin Steven Sosebee for $70, Landers, a hard-scrabble Texas farmer, shot a 73 in the final round. His four-over-par 288 tied him for sixth place, earning him $4,270. Even better, it earned him a berth on next year's Senior tour, where he'll be competing against the likes of Ray Floyd and Dave Stockton for $1 million purses.
"Just eight of the 111 entrants won full exemptions," says Steve Champion, a club pro who first met Landers last year. "Seven of the eight were either playing pros or solid club pros. Robert is the only one who will need the purse money to play on the tour."
Of the handful of steelworkers, mechanics and insurance salesmen to have qualified for the senior circuit since its inception in 1980, none have followed a more unlikely path than Landers, who has been trying to eke out a living on his farm since the clothing store he managed went bust two years ago. Since then, he has spent much of his free time—and there has been lots of it—chopping wood, raising cattle and honing his game with constant practice in his pasture. "The cows come in handy," Landers says. "They keep the grass down."
As plain and solid as an oak plank, Landers is a simple, practical man who may be slow to act but is unswerving when he does. Before Lutz, the most Landers had won in a tournament was $700, at the Texoma Senior Open earlier this year. "Imagine, $700!" he says guilelessly. "I was so happy, I didn't sleep for a week."
At 50 he is about to see his life changed by the lavish Senior tour, mostly in ways he doesn't care to think about. "How we're gonna deal with this deal I got us into, I don't know," Landers says. "I don't even know how to get to those tournament cities, or where they are."
He hates planes and hasn't flown since 1981. "Truth is, I haven't even had time to consider what I've done," says Landers. "The whole thing's like a fairy tale. Cinderella, maybe."
His wife, Freddie, demurs. "Except that Cinderella knew her stepsisters had fine things and that she was entitled to fine things," she says. "Whereas we were contented where we was at. In our wildest dreams, if we was gonna dream a dream, it wouldn't be this big.
"Until now, our dream was that we weren't gonna get any worse off. We were just a couple of nobodies from nowhere."
Nowhere is about 18 miles northwest of Fort Worth. It's called Azle, and you could clear downtown with a seven-iron. "I lived in Fort Worth for 10 years, but it was too fast for me," Landers says. "Being out here with the trees, the birds, the creek and the dirt is the best life I could ever imagine having."