My questions and my answers about Chapter II of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic:
Is this the Seniors Tour or the Champions Tour?
A: When the Seniors Tour began in 1980, and for its first decade, it was an Old Man’s Tour. Or at least that’s the way it was branded and marketed.
If you were an aging country singer, you shared the marquee with the players. There was the Gatlin Brothers Southwest Senior Classic. The Roy Clark Senior Challenge. There was the Boca Grove Seniors Classic, which sounds like something played at a retirement home in a “Seinfeld” episode.
But by 1990, modern marketing techniques kicked in and the use of “seniors” was verboten. It is now used strictly in USGA events. Now the Champions Tour is sponsored by investment firms (PowerShares QQQ Championship), insurance agencies (Chubb Classic) and by analytic software (SAS Championship).
Now the only homey-type Champions Tour week is the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf event. It’s a two-man team event; last year Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player finished second in the Legends Division. Home run.
Is this golf tournament really a Classic?
A: Any field that includes former Tucson Open champions Lee Janzen, Larry Mize, Jeff Sluman, Kirk Triplett and Mike Reid is classic. Remember: Janzen won the U.S. Open twice and Mize won the Masters.
Any field that includes Bernhard Langer — who is probably the best over-50 golfer in history — is a classic.
Any field that includes instantly recognizable golf names Haas, Montgomerie, Woosnam, Kite, Calcavecchia and Rocco is a classic. And Funk, too.
Is there any chance Tucson will return to the under-50 PGA Tour?
A: Every week of the Tour calendar is booked. There are three encumbered events — in Jackson, Mississippi; Reno, Nevada; and in Puerto Rico opposite World Golf Championship events — but once Match Play moved from Dove Mountain, that sound you heard was the door closing on Tucson’s 60-year run on the PGA Tour.
It isn’t just shut, it is hermetically sealed.
What would be the most intriguing twosome to follow at Tucson National?
A: If the Conquistadores get lucky, Mike Springer and Hale Irwin will be matched this week.
Springer, an Arizona All-American in the late 1980s, turned 50 in November, and has played in two Champions Tour events. Earnings: $896.
Irwin turned 70 last summer. He has unimaginably won 45 Champions Tour events and more than $26 million. (Not bad for a retirement job.)
Irwin and Springer have a history. In the 1994 Kmart Greater Greensboro Open, the young buck from Arizona went to the 18th hole tied with Irwin, who at the time had won three U.S. Opens. But Irwin bogeyed the final hole and Springer earned $270,000, his largest paycheck in his long (fringe) pro career.
Any chance Tucson will get an LPGA Tour event again?
A: The last LPGA event in Tucson was 2004. Over a 24-year period, it blew through seven sponsors: Fry’s, Circle K, Welch’s, Ping, the Tucson Parks Foundation, the Conquistadores and the Southern Arizona copper industry.
The golf was spectacular. The Who’s Who of women’s golf won Tucson championships: Annika Sorenstam, Jan Stephenson, Nancy Lopez, Tucsonan Christa Johnson, Amy Alcott, Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster.
The LPGA Tour still has open weeks in February and March, perfect for Tucson’s climate, but the tour is no longer a quaint, second-city type operation. It now plays in South Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and the Bahamas.
Many of the LPGA events don’t pay as much or more than the $1.7 million available at the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, but finding a sponsor for the LPGA Tour in 2016 is much different than it was in the ’80s and ’90s, when American golfers dominated the scoreboard.
Now it’s an international game, which, for better or worse, has lost much of its appeal to American sponsors and fans.
What’s the most enduring memory of a Tucson Champions Tour event?
A: At the 1984 Seiko Tucson Match Play Championships, 24 senior golfers played Part B to the regular tour’s Part A, the top 124 players including champion Tom Watson.
The weeklong event was played at Randolph North, and the final four in the senior event were golf legends: Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Don January and Peter Thomson.
On the morning of the finals, Littler, who had won 29 PGA Tour events, including the 1959 Tucson Open, was practicing on the putting green. As a rookie golf writer, I asked him if he had a few minutes to chat, unaware that pro golfers didn’t do interviews before a round.
Littler was accommodating, and asked if I played golf. I said I did. He asked me to write down my name and address.
About a week later, I got a package in the mail of a “Bassackward” putter. Littler had addressed the package himself, and included a note saying the funny-looking putter was going to be the next big thing in golf equipment.
A few weeks ago, when I put all my old and cobweb-gathering golf clubs in a new place in the garage, I saw the Bassackward putter.
I never used it.