On a brisk Sunday afternoon in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the ancestral home of Bubba Golf, with a football game playing on a clubhouse television, a guy with a bad back and a porkpie hat won the Senior Tour Championship at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club. Jim Colbert, a 54-year-old grandfather from Las Vegas, won the season's inaugural event, its finale and twice in between. His Sunday payday was $262,000, and his haul for the year, $1,444,386, was surpassed by nobody.
Contrary to the practiced and jovial demeanor they let you see, the Senior tourists, far more than their junior brethren, live in a state of postadolescent competitiveness. Every dollar they earn, and every Cadillac they win, contributes to feelings of empowerment and superiority. In victory Jim Colbert, who won two Cadillacs this year, was proud. "For at least once in my life I've got the first spot," he said, speaking the words without the worried, fixed grin that marks his game face. He looked, maybe for the first time in the 30 years of his professional career, truly satisfied.
On the year-end money list, and at the Senior Tour Championship, Colbert ran one place ahead of Raymond Floyd, and that contributed immeasurably to the victor's feelings of satisfaction. For Floyd is, Colbert said, "day in and day out our best player." Yet Colbert managed to finish a stroke ahead of Floyd at the Dunes and $24,841 ahead of him for the year. So what does that make Jimbo?
But the great Raymondo has done the things that Colbert has only longed for. Floyd has won majors, played on Ryder Cup teams, lived large. People who know nearly nothing about the game know he's the man, or one of them, anyway.
And now, at least more than he has ever been before, Colbert is too. No Senior golfer has ever earned more money in a year. No Senior golfer has won the first and last tournaments of a season. Nobody other than Colbert has won a Senior Tour Championship while carrying the burden of the lead from the opening round. Colbert was three strokes ahead after the first and second rounds, and he doubled his lead last Saturday with a loose, make-everything-you-see 71, one under par and a good score in the big, wet wind. But a half-dozen ahead, Colbert discovered on Sunday, is a lousy place to be, particularly when one of the guys in pursuit is Floyd.
Last year at the Senior Tour Championship—also played at the Dunes, an oceanside Robert Trent Jones gem opened in 1949, when the fabled architect was little known and really good—Jim Albus had six strokes on Floyd entering the final round, and Floyd won the tournament on the fifth playoff hole.
On Sunday, Colbert played with Rocky Thompson and Dave Stockton. They, like Floyd, had played 54 holes in 214 whacks. Stockton, the first name on the 1993 and 1994 money lists, would have won the money title again had he finished second or first at the Dunes, but he closed with a 72, level par, good for fifth for the week and third for the year. Thompson played on the weekend without his 56-inch-long driver—the shaft broke when his golf bag fell off a cart and onto a cart path (a caddie will be fired)—and he tied for third at the Dunes with Tom Wargo, three shots behind Colbert. Only Floyd, in the penultimate group, made it a game.
And briefly he did. While coming in, Colbert, by his own frank admission, was getting nervous and upset, and he made some bad swings. (But he kept grinning.) He made bogeys on the 11th, the 13th and the 15th, and he heard people talking about last year's tournament. As he walked up the 16th fairway, he asked Andy North, an on-course commentator for Colbert's old employer, ESPN, for an update. "Raymond's four and he's fixing to go five at 17," North answered. Colbert was six under par at the time.
Floyd made his birdie on 17, he had nearly holed his tee shot on the par-3, while Colbert made a par at 16. Colbert's margin over Floyd, which had been nine shots earlier in the afternoon, was now just a stroke. Then Colbert got himself together. On 17 he nailed a five-iron and canned a 20-footer for a two. When Floyd missed a birdie on 18 by the diameter of a ball, Colbert could afford to make a bogey on the last hole, which is what he did. He limped home—a 39 coming in, 74 for the day—but he was standing.
So for the week and for the year Colbert was better than everybody else. He was better than Floyd and Stockton, he was better than Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin and Jack Nicklaus. He got some free help, of course. You always do in tournament golf. The event was open only to the top 31 money winners, but Nicklaus skipped it, so Colbert had him beat by Thursday morning. Irwin was assessed a four-stroke penalty on Saturday and was never heard from again. Trevino opened his week by calling the Grand Strand "a 60-mile-long strip mall." The local Bubba gods got Trevino for that one. He took a 9 on one hole, never broke 70 and never had a chance.