In the pitch black at 4 a.m. on Sunday, Al Heath's work crews were knee-deep in the bunkers, pumping out the water even as more rain came pouring in. "It's like trying to spoon out the Titanic" said Heath, the course superintendent at PGA National Golf Club, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
So much aggravation—and for what? Play was suspended seven times last week by the torrential South Florida storms. The players continued to complain, as they normally do. The fans stayed away in even greater numbers than usual. The 61st PGA Seniors Championship was a doomed tournament, which is another way of saying that it's headed for New Jersey.
When the PGA Seniors is held next May at Ridgewood Golf Club in Paramus, N.J.—in front of crowds at least 10 times larger than those that sloshed through the muck at PGA National last week—it will mark, with great finality, the end of the tournament's exclusive engagement in Florida, which dates back to 1940. This being one of the Senior tour's four majors and the only event in Senior golf with more years of experience than the golfers', it is a change worth noting. Apparently someone up there wasn't very happy about the exodus, because more than nine inches of rain saturated the course from Thursday to Sunday, reducing the championship to 54 holes and extending play through Monday.
"This tournament in all likelihood will never be back here," says PGA of America CEO Jim Awtrey, who is considering future venues such as Merion ( Philadelphia), Cherry Hills ( Denver), Oak Tree ( Edmond, Okla.) and Kiawah Island ( South Carolina), as the PGA Seniors looks for an audience worthy of its tradition. The tournament predates the invention of the Senior tour by 40 years. It annually features the tour's finest field and is played on one of its most demanding courses, yet last week fewer than 15,000 people came out to see the three days of practice rounds and the five tournament days that followed. "If you don't support something, you can't keep something," says Jack Nicklaus, who lives nearby in North Palm Beach. "The [fans] didn't support it."
Awtrey claims that his organization has tried every kind of alliance, advertisement and promotion since 1982, when the tournament was moved to PGA National's Champion course in the backyard of the PGA of America's headquarters. This year fans were offered a daily ticket for $20 ($5 off the regular price) that came with coupons worth more than $2,000 toward greens fees at local courses. Kids 17 and under were admitted free with an adult Practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday were free. Over the years the tournament has also offered free concerts, exhibitions by Divot the shot-making clown, a senior citizen's day, a buy-one-ticket-get-one-free day, and still, when Doug Tewell ran out to a four-stroke lead on Saturday afternoon, he was greeted on the 11th tee of this most prestigious of Senior majors by a gallery of fewer than three dozen (including the eight friends to whom he had given tickets). "By the time we play this event the tourist season is over and the snowbirds have gone home," said Tewell, who didn't take the short shrift personally. "This is a golf mecca, but the people here would rather play golf than watch it."
It was hoped that interest would be aroused by the new Senior class of Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Andy North and Tom Kite, who two weeks earlier had won the year's first Senior major, the Tradition. Instead, the gloomy conditions brought out the best in Tewell and Dana Quigley, a couple of admitted underachievers in their younger days. Last Thursday night, as dusk was giving way to darkness, Tewell could be seen running to the 15th tee like a trespasser hoping to sneak in a few holes after work. He was in a hurry to play his shot over water on the 164-yard hole while the flag was limp. He knew that play was about to be suspended because of darkness after several rain delays earlier in the day, and he didn't want to risk playing such a difficult shot at a time when stormy winds might blow his ball astray. He hit to 15 feet and sank the birdie putt moments before the horn sounded. "One hole can make the difference," he said optimistically.
On Monday, Tewell turned a one-shot lead into a seven-stroke victory, completing a final-round 67 to win the abbreviated event in 15 under par. He had been the leader every night from Thursday through Sunday, though he had completed only two rounds in that time. On Friday he confided that he had escaped the stock market correction with little harm done. On Sunday he announced the birth of his third grandson in Edmond, Okla.: Carson Isaac Tewell, six pounds, 12 ounces. On Saturday, in yet another bit of good fortune, he played the last three holes of his first round and the entirety of his second—with only a half hour in between—uninterrupted by the elements. He had just finished signing his name to a second-round 66 that afternoon, giving him sole possession of the lead at 10 under, when the rain-delay horn sounded again. It meant his rivals would have to exercise more patience waiting for yet another thunderstorm to pass, while he could sit back and enjoy his advantage.
His good luck was a rare commodity, not only when seen against the plight of the tournament but also against his disappointing career. Tewell believes his temper and refusal to seek advice limited him to four victories during his 25 years on the regular Tour. He was hoping to make amends on the Senior tour when he suffered an attack of sciatica the day after he turned 50 last August. "I cried like a baby that night," he says, thinking that he had ruptured a disk and would require surgery. He was sidelined for five weeks and played in pain the rest of the year. That pain has subsided. "I'm focused on the Senior tour," he says. "I expect to win 10 times or more out here."
The biggest threat to his lead entering the final 18 holes came from the unlikely Quigley, who maintained a different view of winning. "I have never, ever given a thought to whether I'll win again," says the 53-year-old Quigley, who has earned $1.8 million over the last two years without winning a tournament. "It absolutely doesn't matter to me. To win, you've got to be aggressive and, at all costs, shoot the lowest score. But I've got a little conservatism in me because I was poor for 50 years."
Quigley is a former club pro from New England who played irregularly on the PGA Tour. This tournament was the 100th in a row for which he has qualified on the Senior tour. On the advice of his sports psychologist, he tried to take a week off last year, but by Wednesday he was catching a flight to Indianapolis to keep his streak intact. "No one understands that I do not get mentally or physically tired by playing golf," Quigley says. "I get such a joy out of competing against these guys and the conditions and the courses that it really pumps me up. I've always been compulsive. I was the same with drinking. I couldn't have three or four beers. I had to drink everything behind the bar." Quigley says he hasn't had a drink in 11 years.