Another senior tour story, and by now the theme I should be familiar: Week after week the same two players hog the headlines as well as the top of the leader board, leaving their dispirited colleagues the crumbs. Yes, Hugh Baiocchi and Bruce Summerhays are running roughshod over the tour.
O.K., O.K., Baiocchi (by-OCK-ee) and Summerhays haven't displaced Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan as the tour's most dynamic duo quite yet. Last week at the Vantage Championship at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, N.C., it was Morgan beating Irwin for the $225,000 first prize, thereby tying them atop the Senior tour with six wins apiece in '98. Still, over the last month Baiocchi and Summerhays have been the hottest twosome in the game. During a memorable two-week stretch in late September, Summerhays had a pair of second-place finishes, including a hard-fought playoff loss. Not too shabby, except when compared to Baiocchi, who was the victor in both those tournaments. By the end of the Vantage, Summerhays and Baiocchi were up to fifth and sixth, respectively, on the money list and on the cusp of their first million-dollar seasons. Though they seem to have little in common—Summerhays is a homebody from Utah and the proud father of eight, while Baiocchi is a citizen of the world by way of South Africa—both have reinvented themselves as elite players, having finally grabbed the chance.
"When I was a kid, America was this big, huge place, almost up in the sky," says Baiocchi, 52. "It was the land of opportunity, the place we all dreamed of, and having played my way over here and had some modest success, well, it's something."
"We are testaments to what this tour is all about: second chances," adds Summerhays, 54.
Both players grew up as stud athletes—Summerhays was an all-state quarterback and star point guard at Highland High in Salt Lake City, and Baiocchi was a tennis champion and crackerjack sprinter in Johannesburg—but saw their futures in golf. Their career tracks diverged profoundly when they reached their early 20s. Too intimidated to move to the U.S., Baiocchi carved out a successful niche across Europe, Africa and South America, winning 16 tournaments over 22 years. Summerhays, meanwhile, allowed himself one chance to qualify for the PGA Tour, in 1965. When he flunked Q school, he devoted himself to his family and the Mormon church, settling into the routine life of a club pro at San Francisco's Olympic Club and elsewhere. Each made occasional cameos on golf's big stage. Baiocchi played in three straight Masters from 1974 through '76, coming in 22nd in '75, while Summerhays finished third in the 1974 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am as a Monday qualifier. But they refused to be seduced by the bright lights.
"You make your decisions in this life and you accept them," Summerhays said last Saturday. "I'm quite comfortable with the way things have turned out." He finished an uncharacteristic 62nd at the Vantage, while Baiocchi, with a closing 64, was 18th.
Summerhays is so devoted to his children (four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 18 to 33) that he would not venture out on the Senior tour until all eight voted their approval during a family summit in the fall of 1994 at the Summerhays's adopted hometown of Heber City, Utah. Part of the deal, too, was that the kids would caddie for him on a full-time basis, rotating their services. This was not because Summerhays was looking for cheap labor (in fact, he pays his kids a very good wage) but because "he's a wimp," says his wife, Carolyn. "He gets lonely."
All these friendly faces on the bag aided Summerhays's acclimation to the tour. After breezing through Q school at the end of 1994, he was one of the big surprises of the '95 season. He earned $729,021 to finish 13th on the money list, and he followed with only the mildest of sophomore slumps, finishing 29th in '96. Last year Summerhays won his first tournament, the Saint Luke's Classic, beating Baiocchi—natch—in a playoff, and this July he won again, at the State Farm Senior Classic. His success is borne of talent (Summerhays's 60 is the course record on Olympic's Ocean Course) and an old-fashioned work ethic. During one stretch spanning his first two-plus seasons, Summerhays played in a lumbar-exploding 96 consecutive tournaments for which he was eligible. In 1996 he played a tour-record 119 rounds.
"Dad never gets tired of playing golf," is the simple explanation of William Summerhays, 25, who caddied for his father at the Vantage and was on the bag for both of his victories, a fact not lost on the other Summerhays children. "Oh, yeah, they hear about that all the time," says William. This is indicative of the kind of competitive jones present in the Summerhays clan. Cutthroat family matches have forged three other standout golfers: Joseph, 27, played the minitours this year and is gearing up for the PGA Tour Q school in November; Bruce Jr., 20, will accept a scholarship to either Utah or Utah State in December upon his return from a two-year Mormon mission in Brazil; and Carrie, the baby, just enrolled at BYU on a full ride, spurning numerous basketball offers despite being an all-state selection in that sport three years running. "I would encourage any of them to chase their dreams and play golf professionally," says Summerhays. "For me it wasn't the right circumstance when I was that age. At Q school I missed getting my card by four strokes, and that was with seven three-putts over the final two rounds. That told me that the pressure of trying to support a family on Tour was too great."
Baiocchi, also, was given pause by the ferocious competitiveness of the PGA Tour, which was in stark contrast to the smooth sailing he had encountered elsewhere after mining pro in 1971. By '75 he had won three significant tournaments—and he and his wife, Joan, had had two kids. Baiocchi won four more tournaments in 1976 and the following season finished second on the European tour's money list, behind a skinny young Spaniard named Seve Ballesteros. "[Playing in the U.S.] presented an awful gamble, and I had heard more than a few horror stories," Baiocchi says. "Back then you could starve over here, or at least that's what I had been told." So he became a fixture everywhere but the States, known not only for the purity of his ball striking but also for the variety of his outside interests. He was a breed apart from the other notoriously hard-partying South Africans.