Scott McCarron went three years without taking golf seriously after leaving UCLA before he attended the 1991 Raley’s Senior Gold Rush, a now-defunct event on the Champions Tour.
McCarron, then 26, noticed a handful of players using long, broomstick-length putters and decided to give one a try the next morning while playing hooky from work.
His success with that putter helped fuel a successful PGA career. All these years later, he’s the newest addition to the Champions Tour and realizes the time is now to cement his place among golf’s best players 50 and older.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself that so many years have gone by and I’m still playing well,” he said.
McCarron turned 50 on July 10, and his first taste of the Champions Tour came last week at the Senior British Open. Marco Dawson wound up winning, becoming the 11th player aged 50 or 51 to cash the winner’s check this season.
In more than 1,000 events in Champions Tour history, 75.4 percent of winners are younger than 55.
“Guys play their best when they’re first coming out on this tour,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, who turns 51 in August and won his first Champions Tour event in February. “When you’re 25-30 [on the PGA Tour], you don’t look at it as your skills are diminishing or you’re running out of time. When you’re 50, we’re already past that threshold where your body is losing muscle every year. You have to work that much harder to maintain where you were.”
For most Champions Tour players, the most trusted item in their golf bag is a bottle chock full of ibuprofen tablets. Janzen pointed out the one-sided nature to the game of golf, the same few motions over and over on the driving range, in practice rounds and during competition.
“Not everybody can continue on much past 50,” he said.
There are exceptions:
• At 57, Bernhard Langer enters this week’s 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities third in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points race. Fresh off a flight from London, Langer spent part of Tuesday studying the course and put in a long session on the driving range Wednesday.
• As a 59-year-old in 2009, Tom Watson came within an 8-foot putt from winning the British Open.
• Hale Irwin, 70, is out of the 3M for the first time since 1995 but has a sub-70 career scoring average in the event.
“That’s the inspiration to get in the gym, stay in shape, take care of yourself and extend your career,” Janzen said.
McCarron knows what it’s like to have success early. Not long after he discovered that long putter in 1991 he won amateur tournaments and made it into the quarterfinals of the USGA mid-amateur event. He finished in the top 10 the first time he entered the Masters in 1996, and finished in the top 10 the following year at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
McCarron reached out to several Champions Tour players before turning 50 to get an idea of what he signed up for this season.
The verdict? Be ready.
“It’s not as laid-back and relaxed as people think,” McCarron said. “I’m out here to compete, to win tournaments, to win the Schwab Cup. For me to get out there and get opportunities to compete in majors again is a lifelong dream.”