The Senior Tour Could Soon Become Very Interesting
Golf is that rare sport that can span a lifetime, offering players a reprieve, the second chance of success beyond their prime. Each year, a fresh class of newly enshrined 50-year-olds become eligible to compete on the PGA Tour Champions and Staysure Tour, enjoying the novelty of becoming rookies again, decades after they first emerged on the regular circuit.
It can be a highly lucrative endeavour, the best pension scheme in sport. During his remarkable career on the Champions Tour, Bernhard Langer has earned a staggering $27,988,680 - and counting - eclipsing the long-reigning total of three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin. The German has also won 11 senior majors, surpassing the record set by Jack Nicklaus.
While it may not draw the mainstream attention of the wider public, part of what makes the senior tour intriguing is the new batch of players who make their way onto the circuit each season, much like a football team signing new stars for the campaign ahead. Reuniting former Ryder Cup players, major champions, reigniting old rivalries, it's a surprisingly rich dynamic to follow. During the past year, the likes of Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie, Michael Campbell, and Retief Goosen - recent winner of the Senior Players Championship - have all made their debuts on the Champions Tour.
However, looking forward to 2020, there is the potential for some even more fascinating pairings and stories to develop.
This September, two-time major champion Angel Cabrera turns 50 and will welcome the opportunity of a new stage after seeing his regular tour status diminish. Japanese legend Shigeki Maruyama shares a birthday with the Argentine. But in October, it's a milestone for the great Ernie Els, as the double Open and U.S. Open winner hits the half century and will be rejuvenated by the challenge of competing on the senior circuit, having remained active - albeit to limited results - throughout his late 40s.
Next May, former Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk - who finished runner-up at March's Players Championship - turns 50, though it remains to be seen whether he'll split his time between both sides of the divide. 2003 Masters champion, Mike Weir becomes eligible on the same day - another shared birthday - and the Canadian will look forward to the possibilities of competing at this level after enduring a difficult few years on the golf course. Popular Sky Sports commentator, Rich Beem is sure to bring smiles when he reaches the milestone in August.
But most eyes will be on Phil Mickelson, who turns 50 during next year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the site of his agonising national title loss in 2006. The five-time major champion has shown his competitiveness against the young guns - his win at Pebble Beach in February underlines that - so his days with the bus pass crowd may be some time away, but what a boost it would be for the Champions Tour should Mickelson add an event or two on his schedule, maybe even the U.S. Senior Open.
Turning 50 is no longer the death knell for a career, Davis Love III won the Wyndham Championship at 51, even Craig Stadler and Fred Funk won PGA Tour titles in their sixth decade. Not to mention the remarkable feats of Greg Norman and Tom Watson, who contended in the Open a generation removed from their perceived window of opportunity.
While we may have to wait for Mickelson and Furyk to join Langer, Goosen, Steve Stricker and Scott McCarron on a regular basis, the chance to see these names embarking on an extended career in the game is an exciting prospect and one that warrants attention.
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