Jim Thorpe looks like a linebacker and launches drives into the stratosphere, but it was sound strategy and an airtight wedge game that led him to victory at the Senior tour's Countrywide Tradition, in which he beat John Jacobs on the first hole of a playoff. Thorpe's playing partners in the final round, Jacobs and Bob Gilder, made mental blunders at the end of regulation on the 553-yard par-5 18th at Superstition Mountain, leaving themselves difficult wedge approaches. Each player could do no better than par. Meanwhile, Thorpe birdied the hole with a play that showed why setup shots are so crucial to a good short game. Thorpe, who carries 48-, 54-and 57-degree wedges, laid up with a seven-iron to 123 yards, leaving himself a full wedge in—the ideal play in a high-pressure situation. He stiffed the shot (above) to force the playoff with Jacobs. Playing the same hole in sudden death, Thorpe drove into the rough, and his instinct was to blast a three-wood at the green. "We make more birdies laying up," caddie Tony Shepherd told Thorpe, who acquiesced and hit a four-iron, leaving a 65-yard third shot that he dropped seven feet from the flagstick. "I hit 50 wedges warming up this morning, because it always boils down to that kind of shot," Thorpe told SI on Sunday evening.
The Senior tour calls the Tradition a major, but the event had all the atmosphere of my club championship. Midway through the final round ABC showed a segment about a jocular clinic the players had conducted earlier in the week. Sorry, but I watch Letterman for humor; I want golf on Sundays. It was also a shame that the tournament ended on a hole so weak and wide open that Thorpe could spray a pair of drives and still make two birdies. Instead of leaving the 18th hole as a ho-hum par-5, it should've been shortened by 75 yards and played as a stout par-4 demanding excellence from tee to green.
The Senior tour is supposedly polishing its image, but one of its worst problems persists: smoking during competition. It was unprofessional and appalling—not to mention unhealthy—of Jacobs to torch a cigar during the playoff. How are we supposed to take these guys seriously as athletes if they're chomping on cigars?
Jacobs and Thorpe dispel the myth that you need a big range of motion to be a big hitter. They have two of the shortest (not to mention unorthodox) swings I've seen but are among the tour's longest players. ( Jacobs ranks second in driving distance, at 285.6 yards, while Thorpe is 10th at 277.1.) Each player derives power from the enormous torque he generates through the hitting area, thanks to powerful arms and fast hands.