Unless it's a nine-hole score, 40 is no longer a number to be feared on the PGA Tour. In a sport in which getting older is increasingly synonymous with getting better, 40 now marks a renaissance for many players, the point where their skill, experience and desire merge on the path that leads to the Senior tour. Last year six players older than 40 won on the PGA Tour, and if further proof is needed that 40 is not over the hill, consider that Greg Norman hit the magic number last week.
The trend has exceptions, of course, particularly among pros who have lost their zest for the game. For them, hitting 40 represents not a new beginning but the beginning of the end. And if ever a player seemed numb to the restorative powers of a number, it was Peter Jacobsen.
Perhaps the Tour player with the most diverse outside interests, Jacobsen appeared to regard competitive golf as an afterthought soon after he turned 30 in 1984, his ninth year as a pro. Entering 1995 with four Tour wins, he was perhaps better known for being a television commentator, the lead singer of Jake Trout and the Flounders, Jack Lemmon's perennial pro-am partner at Pebble Beach and the dead-on impersonator of pros like Tom Kite, Craig Stadler and Lanny Wadkins. Jacobsen is also a course designer, cofounder and host of a local charity tournament outside his hometown of Portland, the chairman of a sports event management and promotion company, a two-term veteran of the Tour's policy board, an autobiographer, a husband and a father of three.
It figured that by the time Jacobsen turned 40, which he did last March, he would have eased out of the competitive cauldron altogether in order to do what he does best—have fun.
"I think a lot of us saw Peter getting farther away from playing golf," says Jacobsen's friend and fellow Tour pro Dan Forsman. "I'm sure he's heard young players go by and whisper, 'Yeah, that's Jacobsen. He's the imitator guy.' "
But while his imitations of other players seemingly eclipsed his own performance on the course, Jacobsen held on to the belief that he was a better player than he was given credit for. And turning 40 may have provided just the urgency he needed to finally prove it. With a dominating four-stroke victory at the Buick Invitational of California in La Jolla on Sunday, combined with his equally impressive two-stroke win the week before at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Jacobsen has put together the biggest surge at 40 since Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus tore up the Tour at that age in 1980.
In accomplishing the unusual Tour feat of back-to-back titles, Jacobsen played his dream rounds—hitting fairways and greens with metronomic monotony, making the putts that maintained his momentum, carrying himself with an easy serenity and, when the time came on Sundays, turning into a cold-blooded closer.
As much as anyone, Jacobsen knows how out of character he has been the last two weeks. In 17 years on the Tour, he was a player who too often couldn't play to his ability at crunch time. That pattern began to develop at the 1983 PGA Championship. Jacobsen was one stroke off the lead going to the 72nd hole there, but bogeyed and wound up finishing third behind Hal Sutton and Nicklaus. He lost two playoffs—in the '85 Honda Classic and the '89 Western Open—by three-putting the first hole of sudden death, and he blew the '88 Western Open when he double-bogeyed the last hole to lose by one to a very surprised Jim Benepe.
Coming into Pebble Beach, he had won just once—the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1990—in the past 10 years. So it was understandable on Sunday, after he had posted a 19-under 68-65-68-68-269 at Torrey Pines, that Jacobsen seemed overwhelmed by his recent transformation.
"Maybe I'm a slow starter," he joked, after finishing four shots ahead of Mark Calcavecchia, Mike Hulbert, Sutton and Kirk Triplett. "Over the last 19 years, I questioned myself down the stretch, questioned myself under pressure. I would wonder why I could shoot 64s and 65s in pro-ams or exhibitions but then on Saturday or Sunday never come through with the good round. And I never really knew. I've been playing well for about a year, but I haven't put it together until now. I do know the money means absolutely nothing. Just to be able to go out there and win golf tournaments, that's the whole deal."