The senior tour is getting old.
What started as a welcome chance to see Arnie, Jack, Lee and Chi Chi win one more time has become a weekly opportunity to watch guys named Gibby, Bud and Gil take home the top prize.
The problem with the PGA Senior Tour is that it is either dominated by the youngest guys on the circuit - Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan have won a combined eight times this year - or a little-known player with little fan appeal.
Maybe what is needed is not a senior tour but simply a senior Grand Slam series that gives the fans four chances a year to remember the glory days of some of golf’s greatest players.
Instead, fans are given a weekly reminder of the cruel passage of time.
The steady growth of the senior tour through the 1980s was entirely personality driven - as tends to be the case in individual sports. Just witness the bump in popularity Tiger Woods has given the PGA Tour.
When the senior tour started in 1980, Arnold Palmer was there. Few athletes in any sports have been as compelling and charismatic as Palmer. The King hadn’t won on the regular tour in seven years and everyone embraced the chance to see him once again charging to victory.
Palmer didn’t let his fans down, winning nine times in his first six years as a senior player.
Palmer was joined in 1985 by Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez. Lee Trevino, another captivating personality, turned 50 in 1989 and the remarkable Jack Nicklaus came along a year later.
But consider this: Palmer hasn’t won on the senior tour since 1988. Player has won twice since 1991. Rodriguez last won in 1993 and Trevino won twice in ‘95, once in ‘96 and has yet to win this year.
Nicklaus has won at least once every year as a senior since 1990 except for ‘92, yet ominously has not won this year.
And consider this: The average age of the winner on this year on the senior tour is 52.38 years. Since 1980, the average age of the player with the most victories each year is 50.7 years.
The average age of the leading money winner is 51.4 years and the average age of the scoring leader is 52.05 years.
The tour is getting old - as a concept - but its top players are staying the same age.
John Bland, last year’s rookie of the year, had his best finish on the PGA Tour in the 1978 World Series of Golf when he finished 20th.
TV viewers seem to have noticed the bland nature of the seniors. Five events this year were on network TV and the ratings for all of those were down dramatically.
The average weekend rating for the Legends of Golf was 1.1, down 37 percent from last year. The PGA Seniors had a 1.8 rating, down 18 percent and the Ameritech was 1.4, a little better than half of what it was last year.
The BellSouth held the same at a 1.7 and the Tradition, with a 1.6, was on ESPN last year - the biggest broadcaster of senior events - and a comparison could not be made. The regular PGA Tour, meanwhile, has average network ratings of about 3.3 - and that’s not including the major championships, which get much higher.
Clearly, however, sponsors such as Cadillac - the biggest backer of the senior tour - still feel the small, affluent audience is worth reaching. People who watch senior golf drive Cadillacs, it seems.
While the senior tour will have new dominant golfers coming along - those guys who will win a lot when they are 50 until they hit 53 - it is a few years until true fan favorites come down the pike.
Larry Nelson, who won the PGA twice and the U.S. Open once, turns 50 in September. But it’s not until 1999 that fan favorites Tom Watson and Tom Kite turn 50. Fuzzy Zoeller joins the seniors in 2001 and Ben Crenshaw the next year.
For those who like to plan ahead, Greg Norman comes along in 2005 and Tiger Woods in 2026.
Maybe that will give it the same pizzazz it had when Arnold Palmer was winning. Until then, the senior tour will just continue to get old.
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