The Champions begins its 2019 schedule this week, with three Georgians in the field for the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii.
The tournament features a limited field, consisting of winners from the 2018 Champions Tour and major champions from both the PGA and Champions Tours. The lone Georgian to win on the 2018 Champions TOUR was Augusta’s Scott Parel, who will be competing in the event for the first time.
Savannah’s Gene Sauers is in the field thanks to his 2016 victory in the U.S. Senior Open, with Larry Mize of Columbus earning his spot for his memorable Masters triumph in 1987.
The tour will resume action in early February with back-to-back tournaments in south Florida, and will make its annual stop at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth April 19-21, the week after the Masters.
The tour has some new sites for four of its five majors, with the Regions Tradition remaining at its traditional site – Birmingham’s Greystone G&CC, with that event scheduled for May 9-12. The Senior PGA will be played May 23-26 at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
The U.S. Senior Open will be played for the first time ever on a college campus, visiting Notre Dame June 27-30. The Senior Players, which has been played at a number of sites, has found a home at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, which hosted a World Golf Championship event for two decades. Bridgestone remains as the title sponsor, with the tournament scheduled for July 11-14. The last of the five majors is the Senior British Open, which will be played July 25-28 at Lytham and St. Annes.
Parel emerged as the top Georgian on the Champions Tour in his third season last year. He never earned membership on the PGA Tour and spent most of his career on the Web.com Tour after turning pro in his early 30s. He did not make much of an impact on that tour until his late 40s, scoring his lone win at the age of 47.
He began his Champions Tour career in 2016 with no status other than as a Monday qualifier, but made his way into enough events to finish the year 46th on the money list. He was medalist in Champions Tour qualifying late that year and was 21st in earnings in ’17 before enjoying a breakout season IN 2018.
Parel won an unofficial tournament in south Florida just before the 2018 season opener, and went on to win events in Seattle and Los Angeles, the latter one of three Playoffs events on the tour. He also had four runner-up finishes, losing a playoff at Sugarloaf and finishing one shot back in Canada despite shooting 62 in the final round,. Parel finished the fifth in earnings with more than $1.85 million, ending up third on tour in driving distance and second in putting. He is one of the top picks to challenge 60-year-old Bernhard Langer for the Charles Schwab Cup title in 2019.
Sauers has been one of the tour’s top players the past six seasons, placing among the top 30 on the money list each year, four times in the top 20. He was 14th last year with $1.12 million, recording a trio of top-3 finishes including a tie for second in the Regions Tradition. His only win remains the 2016 Senior U.S. Open, but he has 13 career finishes of second or third. Sauers, who joined the Champions Tour after recovering from a life-threatening skin disease, won three times during his PGA Tour career, the last one in 2002.
Atlanta resident Billy Andrade has been among the top 30 money winners for each of his five years on the tour, placing fourth in 2015 when he won three times. Those are his only Champions titles. Andrade was 27th on the money list in 2018, with a runner-up showing in Biloxi one of eight top-10s, but his only finish better than eighth. Andrade won four times during his PGA Tour career.
Duluth’s Scott Dunlap was a top-15 finisher each of his first three seasons and 25th in 2017. He slipped a bit to 31st last year, hampered for much of the season by a left wrist injury that required post-season surgery. After placing second in Tucson early in 2018, Dunlap closed out the season with three painful top 10s to remain exempt for 2019. Dunlap’s lone Champions victory came in Seattle in 2014. He has also compiled 11 finishes of second or third in his five seasons on the tour. Dunlap played both the PGA and Web.com Tours prior to turning 50, winning twice on the Web.com Tour along with victories in Canada, South America and South Africa in his globe-trotting career.
Mize turned 60 last year, but remains a competitive player on the tour, placing 65th on the money list. His best finish was a tie for 17th in the Senior Players, one of the tour’s five majors. His lone win on the tour came in 2010, but he notched a pair of third-place finishes as recently as 2016. Mize, an Augusta native, won four times on the PGA Tour, the last two coming in 1993.
Davis Love turned 50 in 2014, but has made just 13 Champions Tour starts since then, four of them last year. A tie for 10th in the Senior U.S. Open was the best finish for the long time St. Simons Island resident. Love will likely play primarily on the PGA Tour, especially after a top-10 finish last week in the Hawaiian Open. The last of his 21 career wins on the PGA Tour came in 2015 at the age of 51.
Former UGA golfer Tommy Tolles was a Champions Tour rookie in 2018, and ended up 49th in earnings to retain his status for 2019. Tolles made two early runs at victory in California and Arizona, but did not have another top-10 finish the rest of the year. Tolles played nine seasons on the PGA Tour from 1995-2004, and spent 8-plus seasons on the Web.com Tour, winning tournaments in both 1993 and ’94.
Larry Nelson has played the Champions Tour for two decades, and made four starts in 2018, none after May. In his final start of the season, the 70-year-old Nelson (now 71), shot 67 in the final round of the Regions Tradition in Birmingham. Nelson, a long time Marietta resident, is an Alabama native. During his PGA Tour career, Nelson won 10 times, among them three majors including the 1981 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club and the 1983 U.S. Open. He has added 20 more Champions Tour titles between 1998 and 2004.
Charlie Rymer took some time off from his job as a Golf Channel broadcaster in 2018 to try his hand at the Champions Tour, and did not exactly distinguish himself. Rymer, who played his college golf at Georgia Tech lives in the Lake Oconee area, finishes near the bottom of the field in all four of his starts, with his low score a 75. Rymer played on the PGA and Nike (now Web.com) Tour from 1994-98, winning the Nike South Carolina Classic in hia rookie season of ’94.
Three Georgia PGA members, all former tour players, competed in a handful of Champions Tour events in 2018. Paul Claxton turned 50 in 2018 and made four Champions starts, three as a Monday qualifier. Claxton, a Vidalia native who played four years on the PGFA Tour and 16 on the Web.com Tour, also played in the Senior PGA Championship last year and has already qualified for that event in 2019. Claxton is the 2018 Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
Sonny Skinner played in three Champions events last year including the Senior PGA and U.S. Senior Open, He has made 33 Champions Tour starts since turning 50 in 2010, with a 20th place finish in his debut still his best finish. The long-time Sylvester resident, who made more than 300 career starts on what is now the Web.com Tour, won twice on the tour in the 1990s and played four years on the PGA Tour during that decade. He is a two-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year.
James Mason was a career club professional in Georgia until he turned 50, and played his way into a decade-long sting on the Champions Tour with a 2002 tournament victory as a Monday qualifier. Mason made two starts in 2018, one in the Senior PGA, and like Claxton has already qualified for this year’s event. Mason has more than $3 million in career earnings on the Champions Tour, and twice fiunished as high as 34th on them money list. The Duluth native and Dillard resident was the Georgia PGA Player of the year three times in a four-year span just prior to joining the Champions Tour.
Mason recently turned 68, and most of the players he competed against in his decade as a tour member are nearing the end of their playing careers, including Nelson, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and Tom Kite.
Lamger has spent the last decade as the Tour’s top player, and no one has yet emerged as his main challenger. Steve Stricker and Vijay Singh both won three times in 2018, but both continue to play extensively on the PGA Tour. Parel and Langer won twice each in 2018, as did Scott McCarron, Miguel Jimenez and Paul Broadhurst.
Darren Clarke joined the Champions Tour last Summer, and will be joined in 2019 by a group of international players, including a number of fellow major champions. Retief Goosen and Paul Lawrie both turned 50 early this year, but Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera will not be eligible to join the tour until at least September. Other international players who turn 50 later this year include Shigeki Maruyama, Robert Karlsson, Rod Pampling and Thongchai Jaidee, who will not be eligible until the 2020 season. Former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell turns 50 in February, but has not been an active player for some time.
The most prominent American player turning 50 this year is former PGA champion Shaun Micheel, one of several journeymen who will join the Champions Tour in 2019. Micheel and David Berganio turn 50 this month, with Chris Smith, Dicky Pride and Frank Lickliter following in the Spring and Summer.