It is surely no coincidence that Hale Irwin and die major championships on the Senior tour have the same problem. Both have lost their focus. Last week at the PGA Seniors Championship, Irwin's attempt to match Walter Hagen as the only man to win the same major in four consecutive years never got off the 1st tee. Irwin finished 11th at five-under-par 283, nine shots behind die surprise winner, Senior tour rookie Allen Doyle.
The larger issue, however, is die state of the Senior major, a term that this year is an oxymoron. The Tradition, interrupted twice by snow in Scottsdale, Ariz., was declared over after 36 holes. Even winner Graham Marsh felt sheepish. Last week die PGA Seniors once again went largely ignored by the residents of South Florida. After years of trying, without success, to lure a gallery, PGA chief executive officer Jim Awtrey finally said that he wants to take die tournament on the road, like die PGA and all of the USGA's national championships. In other words, like a real major.
Doyle's lightning bolt of a final-round 64 was four strokes lower than anyone else's score on Sunday and three shots better than any previous champion's closing round. Though third-round coleader Vicente Fernandez led by three early on the back nine, Doyle overtook him by playing die 10 holes from numbers 7 through 16 in eight under. He had an eagle, seven birdies, a par and a bogey.
Doyle, though, provided die tournament with all the pizzazz one might expect from the operator of a driving range in LaGrange, Ga. At the beginning of die week die memory of die elegant Hagen had been revived by Irwin's chase. At the end of the week, Doyle, when informed at die outset of his press conference that champagne was on the way, said, "I won't have the champagne. I'll have a beer if somebody brings me one, sure will."
Actually Doyle is a transplanted good ol' boy. He grew up playing hockey and cad-dying in Sharon, Mass. He melded die two sports with his short backswing and sweeping follow-through, his action resembling the slap shot he used in making the Norwich (Vt.) University Sports Hall of Fame. Asked why Doyle's swing works so well, NBC commentator and teaching pro Mark Rolfing said, "It repeats. Every one is the same."
Between his swing and his unassuming manner, Doyle doesn't exactly intimidate everyone on the range. "People have always dismissed me as a guy who probably wasn't that good," he says. Everywhere he has gone, though, he has won—he's a two-time All-Army champ, a six-time Georgia State Open winner and a two-time Walker Cupper. Doyle didn't turn pro until 1995, when at 46, in an attempt to prepare himself for the Senior tour, he walked onto the Nike tour and won three events. He has won twice this season and leads die Senior tour in earnings with $666,724.
Anyone who can cut a three-iron into the wind and over the water and leave it a foot from die cup, as Doyle did on die 428-yard 16th for his final birdie, is hardly a fluke. But the stretch duel between Doyle and Fernandez fell as flat as the swing that won it. The best that can be said about Fernandez is that die Argentinean has made a habit of coming close. He has finished second or third in four of the last six Senior majors. There's also the hairy truth about his health. Fernandez, 53, has fully recovered from die neck injury he suffered in December while shampooing (and we thought conditioning was a problem on die Senior tour). "I went like this a bit quick," he says, raising his hands to his hair, "and I felt a cramp in my back." (Next week: Bath Gel and How It Can Add Strokes to Your Score.)
Irwin, as was the case with most of the other big names on die tour, never quite got into contention. The man who won 16 tournaments during the past two seasons has one top 10 finish in six starts in 1999. The fall from Hale and hearty to Hale and hardly has come on the greens. In the two previous seasons Irwin had led the tour in putting. He returned to Palm Beach Gardens ranked 56th in '99, his average a stunning 1.98 putts per round higher than it was a year ago. "That just shocked me," he says. "Your average score of 69 becomes a 71. The difference at the end of the week is six or eight strokes. That's not even in the hunt."
Even if Irwin had challenged Hagen's record, would anyone have noticed? The PGA is the oldest—by more than 40 years—and arguably the most prestigious Senior event, but last week it drew an estimated total attendance of 25,000, which is little more than what some Tour stops get on pro-am day. Lee Trevino guessed that his threesome for the first two rounds, which included Arnold Palmer and 1999's overnight sensation, Bruce Fleisher, had a gallery of about 300 people. Palmer can draw 300 fans when he pulls into a gas station. Another threesome featured the winners of five of the last six PGA Seniors: Irwin, Raymond Floyd and Tom Wargo. On die 14th hole on Thursday, they had about 40 fans watching.
"This event has been here so long [the last 17 years], it has become something people are used to seeing," says Awtrey. "This tournament shouldn't be just another tournament." Awtrey and die players speak with awe of this year's U.S. Senior Open at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club, which has been sold out for more than a year. "There's nothing like a live audience," says Jim Colbert.