Hale Irwin Returns to Defend Title

By: Bill Sugg

Will this year, the 10th anniversary of the running of the Vantage Championship at Tanglewood, see Hale Irwin repeat?

It's only been done once before. Jim Colbert won in 1991 and 1992. Granted, Colbert's 92 victory was gained after only 36 instead of the normal 54 holes. That year the event was shortened due to rain. But Colbert took home the jackpot of $202,500 each year, making him the total money winner at the Vantage.

The 1996 purse is set for $1.5 million, with $225, 000 of that set aside for the winner.

Irwin, you will recall, just joined the Senior Tour midway through the 1995 year. He jumped in with his fellow seniors and began to win, win, win. He finished in the top-10 in 11 events in just half a season. He was Rookie of the Year going away.

He hasn't slowed down much in 1996. This year, Irwin has been in the top-10 in most of the tournaments he has entered and he stands at the top of the Senior PGA Tour Money Leaders list through the Northville Long Island Classic with winnings of $1.2 million. Until the Burnet Senior Classic in July, Irwin had a string of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes in Senior Tour events. Irwin tied for 22nd in the Burnet.

Jim Colbert, Irwin's potential nemesis at the Vantage, is in second place with winnings just under $1 million for the year. Colbert has played in over half dozen more tourneys than Irwin this year, giving him a few more opportunities to win.

But the stable is full of potential winners. Bob Murphy, Raymond Floyd, David Stockton, Isao Aoki, and Walter Morgan are all in the top-ten money leaders and they would love to add to their spoils.

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(Photo Credit: RJ Reynolds)

Pressure on the PGA Senior Tour? No Problem for Walter Morgan

By: Lee Pace

Pressure? A five-foot, downhill slider with 10 grand resting in the balance is a day at the beach for Walter Morgan. Pressure? Having to hit a high fade from a hook lie is like eating ice cream to this 55-year-old.

"Pressure is sitting in a foxhole in Vietnam wondering if you're ever going to get out alive," Morgan says. Pressure is getting shot at and seeing your friends get killed. People talk about the pressure of playing golf out here. Shoot, there's no pressure out here."

Which is why Morgan is having the time of his life these days playing the PGA Senior Tour. "Life's really good to me," he says. "I can't think of any way to make it any better."

Morgan is one of a number of golfers with Carolina connections to the pro golf tours, but he's a relative newcomer to the state. Morgan and his wife, Geraldine, were living in New Jersey in the early 1990s. Geraldine, a school administrator, had bought property in New Bern some 15 years before. They decided to build a house at Fairfield Harbour Country Club and have lived there for four years.

"They've got two golf courses, so it's really nice for me," says Morgan, who conducted a junior golf clinic at the club in April. "One course has Bermuda greens, the other bent. So that's even better for practicing on different grasses."

Of course, Morgan doesn't spend a whole lot of time at home these days. He's playing the PGA Senior Tour -- and playing it quite well.

He won his third pro tournament in late July, collecting the $165,000 first prize in the Ameritech Senior Open in Long Grove, Ill. That followed a victory in the FHP Health Care Classic in March and the 1995 GTE Northwest Classic.

"It gets easier every week," Morgan says. "I shoot for the pins now, I've got that much confidence. I still haven't got enough money, though. But I'm working on that."

The Senior Tour has been a breeding ground for come-from-nowhere, rags-to-riches stories. Larry Laoretti and Jim Albus are two (each was a long-time club pro before trying the Senior Tour, Laoretti in Florida and Albus in New York). Tom Wargo is another (he worked construction, auto assembly lines and tended bar, and didn't play golf until age 25). Then there's Walter Zembriski (he went from construction work to playing mini-tours).

That players like these and Morgan sprout in the over-50 brigade is at first glance surprising. But as veteran Bob Murphy, who's enjoyed nearly three decades of success on the PGA Tour and Senior Tour, points out, there's a good reason for it.

"It's not that Walt and these other guys weren't capable of playing the tour, it's just that they weren't able to," Murphy says. "They had jobs. They had families. They didn't have sponsors or weren't able to try the tour. All they needed was a chance. That's what the Senior Tour has given them.

"Walter serves as a dream. Every Monday, 100 to 200 guys pay a hundred bucks each to try to qualify and get in. Walter is living that dream."

Morgan had only modest exposure to golf as a child growing up in Macon, Ga.

"My brother caddied and brought home a 7-iron," he says. "We hit shots in a vacant field across the street. But I didn't know anything about the game." Baseball was Morgan's game, and he flirted with the possibility of trying to play professionally. Instead he became a career Army man, taking two tours of Vietnam. He was in his mid-20s before playing his first round of golf on a military course in Hawaii. He shot a 79 and was bitten by the bug.

"I had to find something to occupy my time," Morgan says. "It didn't take long to get hooked on golf."

He retired from the military and entered the 1980 Tour Q-School. In the same qualifier that produced Fred Couples, Morgan missed his card by one shot. He became a publinx pro in Texas and later a private club pro. All the while, he kept his game in shape and took careful notice as the Senior Tour sprouted and thrived.

"At 49 I thought, 'Hey, I know a lot of guys out there I can beat,'" Morgan says. "So I started working on my game. I told a couple of them, 'When I turn 50, I'll see you.'"

Morgan's first full year on the Senior Tour was 1992. His trademarks are his ever-present cigar, his easy-going demeanor and a powerful, quick-as-a-flash golf swing. He's also consistent; most any weekend you'll find him among the first third of the field, usually with a score right around par. Through July, he was eighth on the Senior Tour money list with $675,000.

His peers on the Senior Tour have taken note.

"He's very intent," Arnold Palmer says. "He goes right after it. He knows what he's doing."

"He can play, there's no question," Murphy says.

Adds Jim Colbert: "He's long, he can putt and he's not afraid. That's a powerful combination."

And it's one that has Morgan en route to becoming a millionaire.

"I never dreamed I'd be where I am," he says. "It just shows what hard work can do for you. You can be what you want to be if you put your mind to it and work hard."

It sure beats sitting in a foxhole in Southeast Asia.

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Tanglewood's 17th hole will be the finishing hole for the 1996 Vantage Championship

Vantage Championship Makes A Few Course Changes At Tanglewood

By: Jay Allred

Spectators attending the tenth anniversary of the Vantage Championship will notice quite a few changes. In years past the champion would march up the hill to the 18th green to a small crowd of loyal fans. This year the course has been reconfigured to end on the "members" 17th hole. In past years, spectators followed the leaders to the 17th hole, wished them well on the 18th tee and headed for the buses instead of climbing the hill to the clubhouse. Tournament Director Rich Habagger looks forward to golfers striding down the final hole with thousands of spectators in additional bleachers cheering the challengers to go for the green in two to win the tournament, a la Kevin Costner in Tin Cup. Last year the 535 yard hole ranked as the 16th hardest hole. It yielded 63 birdies and an eagle. If the pin is cut in the center of the green and the drive is long the number of eagles could soar.

While the scoring average could go down on the final hole, expect it to increase on other holes. In the past, golfers could get off to a good start with birdies on the downhill first hole and the 444 yard par-5 third hole. This year golfers will start on the deceptive 425 yard uphill "members" 18. The hole is uphill all the way requiring a long iron shot to reach the green protected by a deep bunker on the front right. Golfers will be thrilled to start out with a par. Another change will occur at the fourth hole, "members" third, where par has changed from a 5 to a 4. Expect this to rank as the hardest hole in 1996. A large bunker guards the right side of the fairway which slopes to the left. Avoiding the bunker and playing the left side of the hole will bring the trees and a drainage ditch into play. Golfers could be two over after four holes. In past they were two under par.

Not only will the Championship Course at Tanglewood play tougher, the greens will putt better than last year. The extreme summer heat of 1995 stressed and damaged the bent grass greens, but the staff has worked extremely hard this summer to protect the greens and the course started closing on Mondays in August.

Many people have been working hard through the summer preparing for the Vantage and so have the Senior Tour Players. Dave Stockton is just one of the many golfers who already are focusing on the top Vantage prize. "It's the biggest tournament in a difficult stretch of the tour," Stockton says. "All of the guys prepare for the Vantage because it's ideally suited for the players. Golfers shoot for it. I know I do. The Vantage Championship is one of our biggest tournaments, and there are so many good people there that it's also a tournament we enjoy playing very much.

Tanglewood is a marvelous golf course, and when it's surrounded by the galleries they get there, it becomes a great place to play. I enjoy visiting there each fall."

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Super Senior Jim Ferree Reminisces at Last Year's Vantage

By: Max Ulrich

Jim Ferree has won more than $2.5 million as a professional golfer. That's a mere pittance compared to the likes of Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino who have each won more than $9 million on the combined PGA and Senior PGA tours.

However, Ferree appears content.

Following a Super Seniors (age 60 and older) pro-am at Winston-Salem's Forsyth Country Club, Ferree paused to talk to an old acquaintance. And when old timers get together, they tend to talk about some old times. It comes with the aging process.

Ferree was in the Twin City last fall for the annual Vantage Championship at Tanglewood. Golf has been Ferree's life. His dad, Purvis, was the pro at Winston-Salem's Old Town Club for many years; so Jim grew up with the game. Although he was born in Pine Bluff, North Carolina, his roots are pretty deep in Winston-Salem. He still keeps in close touch with his Reynolds High School teammate, Stub Sapp. Sapp recalls that they won the state championship in the late 40s, then went on to play golf for the University of North Carolina at the same time such people as Art Wall and MiKe Souchak played for Duke and Arnold Palmer was relatively unknown at little Wake Forest College at Wake Forest, North Carolina, just above Raleigh. Of course Wake Forest moved to Winston-Salem in 1956.

In 1991, Ferree became the first golfer inducted into the University of North Carolina Hall of Fame.

As Jim Ferree sat in the brand new Cadillac supplied to the Vantage competitors, he had to look to by-gone days. He recalled that in his early days on the PGA tour, they had to supply their own transportation, meals and lodging. And he quickly added, "The prices for those meals and rooms usually were about doubled due to the arrival of the tournament in the towns. Now," he noted, "all of those things are furnished to us."

Many years ago, knickers were commonly worn by golfers, although like a lot of other fashion items, it isn't really very clear as to why they were popular. The players just wore them. Today, knickers are a rarity, but serve as an identity. Ferree has worn knickers since he gravitated to the Senior Tour. There was sort of a nostalgia about knickers (sometimes known as plus fours) and Ferree says when he joined the year-old Seniors tour in '81, a lot of the players were wearing them. He kept it up, and today is recognized as one of the snappiest dressers on the Senior Tour. He is quick to point out that wearing the plus fours has certainly given Payne Stewart an identity. Among the Seniors, Rocky Thompson and Jim Dent continue to wear the them.

Almost from the outset of his pro career, Ferree's putting has been a problem. (He's well regarded as being among the best from tee to green.) Putting was a factor in the Vantage. On the short par-5 third hole, Ferree lofted his second shot within about 12 feet of the hole, only to three putt and turn a very possible eagle into a par.

Of course, it's well-known that Ferree wound up in a deadlock with Jimmy Powell for the Super Seniors title within the Vantage; then lost in a playoff.

Another problem Ferree has faced is with his health. In October of 1991, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He responded splendidly to treatment and he says it is now in remission and he feels fine. He's a forthright individual, and his openness and willingness to go public with his cancer was recognized by the Matthews Foundation. The Foundation named him their Man of the Year. Also, in 1993, Ferree was selected by his peers to receive the Hilton Bounceback Award. He also earned the prestigious Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association.

Jim Ferree, as indicated earlier, is very comfortable on the Senior Tour. He credits the success of the tour to good management and outstanding response from the galleries where they play. He points to Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Lionel Hebert and Bob Goalby (and others) who instigated the Senior Tour and put it in place. And for the people like Ferree, the purses offered are far superior than those they played for on the regular tour some fifteen years ago.

Equipment also came into the conversation on which this article is based. Ferree points out that the club shafts developed in more recent years have provided a much better balance to the clubs. And he says the lighter weight of the shafts allows for more momentum of the club head as it comes through the ball. He says it also enables more golfers to use a driver off the fairways, where, he says, very few golfers could hit a decent shot with a driver with a steel shaft.

Jim Ferree couldn't let the conversation end without a reference to his old friend, and nemesis, Joe Bullins. We had a feature in Triad Golf Today several issues ago which recounted the victory Bullins enjoyed in a nine-hole playoff with Ferree in the 1953 Forsyth County tourney. Had Ferree won that playoff, he would have become the only golfer to win the Forsyth title three straight years after he took the title in '54 and '55. Ferree said he enjoyed chatting with Bullins again during his stay in Winston-Salem.

Old friendships will beat par golf anytime.

Editor's note: As we go to press, it is unclear whether Ferree will make the cut and play in the 1996.

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The Vantage has More than Three Play Days

By: Bill Sugg

Lots of golf is played during Vantage Week. This year Tanglewood's Championship course will be the venue for dawn to dusk golf September 23-29. The star rounds, of course, are the 54 holes played Friday through Sunday by the top 74 available players from the Senior PGA Tour official money list, plus four sponsor exemptions, a total of 78 pros.

But lots of amateurs, some more well known than others, have an opportunity to play with the pros during the pro-am sessions Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. These often serve as practice rounds for many of the pros.

It is expected that many pros will pay a bit more attention as they practice this year. The Championship course has been reconfigured a bit and offers different challenges from those in the past.

Last year, a new event was added on Monday. Called the Legends Pro-Am, it gave a chance for many popular NASCAR Winston Cup drivers to play with some amateurs.

This year, Cross Creek, the popular apparel maker, is sponsoring the event. It will be called the Cross Creek Pro-Am. As we go to press, several NASCAR drivers have commited to play in this event. According to Rich Habegger, tournament director, "Dale Jarrett, Derrike Cope, Steve Grissom, Geoff Bodine, Brett Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Ted Musgrave, and Hut Stricklin have signed up." Other drivers are pending right now. So come out on Monday and follow your favorite driver.

When the actual tournament rounds begin on Friday, the field of 74 will be augmented with four other seniors. Sponsor exemptions have been offered to popular former Wake Forest golfer Arnie Palmer; Gil Morgan, who turns 50 on September 25 and will be playing in his first Senior PGA event; Don January and Gene Littler. Each has accepted and will play in the Vantage Championship.

Tickets are available. Daily tickets are $14 in advance, $16 at the gate. Call the Vantage office for more information, 910-766-2400.

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Special Events Highlight Vantage Week

By: Bill Sugg

From a golf clinic for kids to free instructional tips for adults from area pros, there is lots to do at the Vantage.

The Coca Cola Youth Clinic will be held on Tuesday evening. Plans are for one of the popular Senior PGA Tour pros to conduct a brief clinic at the driving range at the Tanglewood Par-3. It will begin at 5:30 pm and is without charge. Lots of free drinks and snacks will be provided. Bring your kids, they will love it and each will have a chance for some one-on-one instruction by an area pro.

Throughout the week the Spectator Center and Vantage Village will be open along the "new" 18th fairway to offer displays, interactive exhibits, and booths with a variety of offerings, from the latest in golf clubs to suggestions for golf vacations. Triad Golf Today Magazine will be there. Drop by and say hello.

Among the things to do will be a putting green sponsored by Pendulum Putter and golf instruction from area pros including Anne Marie Goslak and Brad Kirkman. Several club manufacturers will have examples of their lines including ZEVO, Taylor Made and Pendulum.

The proceeds for some of the activities in the Vantage Village go to charity. Over the past several years, close to $6,000 has been raised for a variety of charities including Tanglewood Junior Golf, Best Choice Center and the Winston Lake YMCA.

The Vantage Village will be a good place to expend a bit of your energy while waiting for the pros to come up the new finishing hole.

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