Some players wonder if the Tour has been straight with them. According to longtime pro Kermit Zarley, Finchem suggested at a players' meeting in 2002 that consultants advised the Tour to get rid of carts as a way to improve its public appeal. "He was saying that our image is that we're old people," says Zarley, 63. Yet last month, Zarley says, he was told by Gary Becka, the Tour's vice president of administration, that the Tour has never hired anyone to advise it on how to run the Champions tour.
"Who are these consultants?" asks Zarley, who recently filed a complaint with the Department of Justice arguing that because of a degenerative right hip he should be granted a cart under the Americans With Disabilities Act. "That is the first question I want the commissioner to answer."
Both sides are primed to fight it out in the courts. "[The Tour] was the bad guy in the Casey Martin deal," Gilbert says, "and the Tour is going to be the bad guy again."
Cart supporters cling to the hope that a change in the composition of the Champions tour's policy board next year (pro-carters Purtzer and Leonard Thompson will replace anticartists Green and Bob Gilder) will make a legal challenge unnecessary. If three of the four members vote to revisit the matter, the ban will likely make the agenda of the PGA Tour Policy Board meeting in March. Yet with holdover members Doyle and Howard Twitty opposing carts, that possibility is also remote.
The stakes are not as high for sixtysomethings who have already turned their mulligans into millions. But at 52, Purtzer is in the middle of the 50- to 55-year-old window during which seniors typically are their most competitive. Purtzer, who has suffered from a degenerative back condition since his early 40s, has eight children, including two sets of twins, ages six and two. If he has to walk, he'll be forced to curtail his schedule.
"In my last years on the regular Tour I kept thinking, Hang in there until you're 50, and you'll be able to use a cart," Purtzer says. "I'm out here for a different reason than a lot of these guys: I still have to be a breadwinner."
Purtzer gets especially riled up when recounting what happened a few days after he won the Toshiba Senior Classic in March. He was relaxing at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he opened what he assumed was a congratulatory letter from the tour. It was a note that he would be fined for a critical comment he made about the cart issue to a newspaper reporter. Purtzer gave his version of the story to the tour and avoided a fine, but the damage was done. "I've never been so mad in my life," he says.
Purtzer hopes to avoid a lawsuit, but if the Champions tour doesn't reverse its policy before the 2005 season opens in late January, he'll join the fight. "The Tour has made me feel like an outcast," he says, "but I only want to do what everyone else out here has been doing for 25 years."