CNBC's Mark Rolfing went too far when he said James Mason's triumph at the NFL Golf Classic "seemed right out of a movie, like The Legend of Bagger Vance or Tin Cup." Mason, 51, is a club pro from Dillard, Ga., who became only the eighth Monday qualifier to win a Senior tour event, but he's no fluke. "The guy's got real game," says Dave Eichelberger, who played with Mason in the second round and went on to finish second, two strokes back. After a pair of unsuccessful PGA Tour Q school attempts in the 1970s, Mason chose the more secure life of a club pro, but he spent as much time honing his own game as those of his pupils. For the past few years Mason gave only 10 lessons a week, and in the last 12 months he has crisscrossed the country playing in 30 tournaments on mini-tours and on the Senior tour, many through Monday qualifying.
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
Mason showed his veteran cool during the final round. He bolted to an early one-shot lead, holing a wedge for eagle at the 2nd hole and a bunker shot for birdie at the 6th, but he put himself in a pickle by hitting a wild slice into the woods off the par-5 18th tee. Mason had the wherewithal to recall a recovery shot he had played from a similar spot during the pro-am: a low, hard hook under a tree and up the adjoining 10th fairway, leaving a clear shot back to the final green. On Sunday, Mason not only pulled off a stellar five-iron punch-out (left) but also followed with a clutch eight-iron to 10 feet to secure the victory.
"I'm a gambler," Mason said on Sunday night, and he wasn't referring simply to his style of play. Mason risked his family's savings and the comfort of his club pro life for a shot at the Senior tour. Countless guys ponder Senior riches, but it takes guts to actually chase the dream. At 48, I've been contemplating a run at the Senior tour, and Mason's triumph gives me, and a lot of other middle-aged club pros, the kind of inspiration we need.