I was more than a little hot last year when I read, in a TEEING OFF column by Jaime Diaz in the Oct. 14 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, that the Senior tour had lost its appeal. I was also annoyed to see myself categorized as one of "a highly motivated group of grinders" who are "less talented and less charismatic" than the stars who originally made the Senior tour a success. I hate to be the one to remind everybody, but I won two major championships on the regular Tour, which the last time I looked was the same number won by Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Curtis Strange, and one more than Fred Couples and Lanny Wadkins. I don't hear those guys being called grinders short on talent.
But what really bugged me was Diaz's view that the Senior tour is losing its juice because the biggest stars, players like Raymond Floyd, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, don't dominate anymore. It didn't seem to matter to Diaz that the level of play on the tour is higher than it has ever been, that the competition is fiercer and that we've had a close race for the money title over the last three years. In the last two seasons, in fact, Jim Colbert played superbly in our final event to overtake me in 1995 and Hale Irwin last year. I loved what Jim said afterward—that Hale has always been the better player and still is, but that Jim is getting a little closer. How can you criticize a man, or a tour, for that kind of attitude?
What Diaz failed to say is that the so-called lesser players, guys like Colbert, John Bland and Bob Murphy, are winning for a logical reason: They are skilled players who are outworking the competition. Would Diaz like the Senior tour to be structured so that a bunch of ex-superstars could go through the motions and still win? I believe that would diminish the tour. As much as I hate to lose, I know it's good for the game when a legend like Raymond or Jack or Gary Player wins—but only if they've earned it. In any credible professional sport, performance, not reputation, is the final word.
I see an upside to what is happening on the Senior tour. We have the best international representation of any men's tour in the world. Players like Brian Barnes, Bland, Vicente Fernández and David Graham have joined other foreign stars such as Isao Aoki, Bob Charles, Graham Marsh and Player as important figures on our circuit. We might even see Jumbo Ozaki next year. You want a world tour? We've already got one.
But more important, I believe the success achieved by the so-called grinders sends this strong message to soon-to-be seniors like Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Johnny Miller, Wadkins and Tom Watson: "Get your games in shape or be prepared to look foolish."
I can't think of a healthier situation.