I've been a professional golfer for 45 years, but it looks as if my playing days may be over. Not because I've lost any desire. I love the game more than ever. And not because I've lost my skills. I go to the gym as often as possible, and I'm nailing my drives 40 yards longer than ever. (You're never going to hear me complain about technology.) My playing days may be over because I've lost my exempt status on the Champions tour. The tour has taken it away.
They tell me that it's due to a rule the tour passed in 1989, which says a player loses his exempt status if his scoring average is at least five strokes above the average score of the other players in the same tournaments. Last year I was struggling and averaged 79.0 strokes a round, while the field in the events I played averaged 71.3 strokes.
I have nothing against this rule, but I think it should apply only to players who joined the tour after its passage, and not to someone like me, who had already been a member for three years when it was introduced. That is simply not fair.
I've been told that I shouldn't be too upset because there isn't a tournament on the schedule that wouldn't grant me a sponsor's exemption. You're Chi Chi Rodriguez, they say, a guy who, along with Jack Nicklaus, Arnie Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, helped make the Champions tour a huge success.
I don't doubt that I'd receive the exemptions--I have many friends around the country--but while I'd be grateful for that kind of support, that's not how I operate. For me, this is a matter of pride. Based on my performance over the years, I'm among the top 70 seniors on the alltime money list. That should give me the right to receive fully exempt status. I don't want charity. I want only what I deserve: my playing privileges. My situation is akin to someone in the Army who has been demoted from sergeant to private, only in my case they took all my stripes.
What do I do now? Larry Ziegler and I finished fourth in the Legends last week, the event that helped launch the Champions tour. (I knew that the tour wouldn't dare forbid the legends to compete, no matter what they shoot.) After that, I'm really not sure. I haven't thought about how many tournaments I'd want to play, but that's not the point. I should be allowed to play in as many as I'd like.
I'm considering the possibility of legal action. I'd hate to be remembered that way. I'd rather be remembered for all the work I've done with kids over the years, but I might have no choice.
I'm turning 70 in October. I know that sounds old, but my grandparents on my father's side died at 114. I'm still a young man!