RETURN OF THE SWEETEST SWING.
The sweetest swing on the Champions Tour is producing the longest drives in the 50-and-over competition this season, which could be good news for former SBC Classic champion Tom Purtzer.
Anything that contributes to a few less swings will help his aching back, especially now that the seniors are, by tour mandate, walking rather than riding on the 2005 tour - not a unanimously celebrated rule change.
``It's become a divisive thing,'' said Purtzer, who won the 2003 SBC Classic and returns to Valencia Country Club this week as the tour's leading driver. ``Most of the guys don't feel it's an issue, and there's a handful of guys that really do think it's an issue.''
Purtzer, who will follow his SBC Classic appearance with an attempted title defense at next week's Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach Country Club, is among those who would have preferred the cart option that existed the first 24 years of senior tour play.
``It looks like my back is going to be more of a problem than I thought it would be,'' said the man who has been described as having the sweetest swing on tour.
Now that he'll be walking between every shot on this year's tour, Purtzer suspects ``I'll just end up playing fewer tournaments.''
He said his family - it includes two sets of twins among his eight children - likes the idea of him being home more. Purtzer isn't sure what his schedule will be in a season of longer walks.
``Who knows? I might be able to play more than I think, but I'm guessing right now,'' he said. ``I'll probably be able to play 15 to 18 tournaments, something like that.''
The Iowa native, as easygoing as his seemingly effortless swing, likely will draw a lot of fans this week and next in his return to Southern California courses that have been good to him. Purtzer won his first Champions Tour event two years ago at Valencia, holding off Gil Morgan by a stroke in a tournament reduced to two rounds by rain. Last year, he equaled the lowest round in senior-tour history with an 11-under-par 60 at Newport Beach.
A good swing can solve a lot of problems, but Purtzer said he can't claim much credit for it. It's more a case of good luck than hard work, he said.
``When somebody watches me swing, I think they probably see - more than anything else - the rhythm and the tempo of the swing,'' said the 30-year veteran, who has won five times on the PGA Tour and twice on the senior tour.
``I'd like to say I worked really hard on that, but that was one of God's gifts to me. I've always had a rhythmic golf swing. I think that helps, in that I don't feel like I have to hit it hard to hit it a long ways.''
Like many of his generation, Purtzer is profiting from the confluence of improving technology and an era of increasing emphasis on fitness. Mix in that natural swing, plenty of inner drive and some recent fine-tuning with instructor Butch Harmon, and the result is a 53-year-old man with a 294-yard driving average.
Purtzer appreciates his swing, is happy for his continuing desire to improve, can hardly fault the concept of fitness, and is tickled with Harmon's tutelage. The technology doesn't please Purtzer, even as it helps his game.
``There's no way I should be hitting it farther than I've ever hit it in my life at age 53, and that's the case ...,'' he said. ``I don't know how you stop technology, but I think the tour and the USGA are a day late and dollar short. I think they should have recognized this 10 years ago and done something about it. What's happening now is ridiculous.''
It isn't just improved length that is benefiting Purtzer, whose short game has become better with Harmon's assistance.
``I think my putting has always held me back a little bit, my putting and my chipping,'' he said. ``And, really, I think that was more of a mind-set than anything else. ... I just never really trusted my short game.''
His record-tying round at Newport Beach helped bolster that trust. Purtzer made nine birdies and an eagle that day.
``I like California courses,'' said Purtzer, who also has won at Riviera Country Club, in the 1977 Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open - now called the Nissan Open.
He also likes the beginnings of seasons, before he starts to wear down.
``I usually work hard in the offseason to get my game ready for the beginning of the year, and try to get off to a good start,'' he said. ``I always felt that was important. Then, especially the last eight to 10 years on the on the regular tour, I think my body gave out more than anything else.''
It happened again last year, Purtzer said, when he faded the last four months of the season. So here he is back at Valencia, early in the year, full of energy and playing on a Southern California course he likes. What could be better?
Probably an occasional breather in a cart, but those days appear to be gone.
ON THE GREEN
BY DAVE SHELBURNE