The Senior Tour is the sweetest nut in golf, and the toughest to crack. Should the system be changed to give more men an opportunity to play? Harry Toscano, a 55-year-old veteran of the regular and Senior tours, says yes, and in July he filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento alleging that the Senior tour's eligibility policies are illegal.
Toscano argues that the current system is unfairly skewed toward average players who made a lot of money on the regular Tour at the expense of, among others, good players who didn't. He points out, for example, that Andy North (the winner of two U.S. Opens) won't be exempt for the Senior tour when he turns 50 in 2000 because, due to injuries, he has been unable to earn enough to rank among the top 70 career money winners. Toscano also says that the exempt policy doesn't fairly reward current playing ability.
The Senior tour contends that the system exists for sound business reasons. Among other things, the eligibility policy is designed to bring the game's most recognized names before the public because of their entertainment value. That means that Johnny Miller shooting a 74 is more marketable than Hugh Baocchi shooting 69.
Toscano says that he would like to see Senior fields expanded to 144 players, with a cut to the low 70 and ties after 36 holes. The Q school, meanwhile, would provide 50 players each year.
As for stars, Toscano believes they will emerge as a result of performance. "There's a lot of talent out there," he says. "The veterans know it, and they don't want to give anyone else equal footing because that will cut into their winnings. They're being self-serving. The only real stars who pull in people are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino. After that, what pulls in people is good play. The gallery doesn't care who they're watching as long as they know they're watching the best. A lot of these guys are legends in their own minds. They think they made the tour. I believe they have it backward. The tour made them. All I'm saying is, Let it make others."
The lawsuit has angered many Senior players. The prevalent view is that no system has ever kept out a truly good player. Palmer recently told Toscano, who has never won on the regular or the Senior tour, that he was being unrealistic. "That's not what the sponsors want," Palmer said. "Everyone can't play in the big leagues."
Although plenty of nonexempt players are hoping that the lawsuit will improve their situations, others believe that Toscano is out of line. "There wouldn't be a Senior tour without the guys whom Harry is criticizing," says Fritz Gambetta, a regular at Monday qualifiers. "I feel fortunate just to have the chance to play next to these guys. If I play good enough, I'll do all right."
Toscano, who wants the case to go before a jury, realizes that he will be too old to take advantage of a favorable ruling. "This is not about me," he says. "This is about fairness, which is what golf is supposed to be all about."