When he first began playing on the Senior PGA Tour in 1990, Lee Trevino remembers his friend Gary Player telling him to compete in as many tournaments as he could over the next few years, the better to maximize his earnings before the inevitable erosion of skills that accompanies age.
"When I came out at 50, I'm out there winning everything and Player says when you're 55, 56, you'll hit the wall," Trevino said yesterday. "I said no way, I love to practice and play too much. But you know what, it was like waking up one morning at the age of 55, and I couldn't do it any more.
"It's a lack of concentration. You get tired of it. You don't like it as much as you used to. When I was younger, I couldn't live without it. It was like a drug to me. I had to practice and play. Now, I go home for a couple of weeks and I don't even take my clubs with me."
Trevino does have his clubs with him this week at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia, where he will play in the State Farm Senior Classic that begins today for a purse of $1.3 million, with $195,000 going to the champion.
Even though seven of the top 10 money-winners on the senior circuit are playing here this week, Trevino, who turns 60 in December and is 24th in earnings, remains the marquee name for the event, which is in its second year. It's Trevino's face, not that of defending champion Bruce Summerhays, on tournament promotional posters and he is likely to draw the largest galleries over the next three days.
"It's the right thing to do," Summerhays said of the poster. "Who'd recognize Bruce Summerhays's face anyway?"
Many of the tour's well-known stars -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Hale Irwin and Ray Floyd, among others -- will take the July 4th weekend off after playing last week in the Senior Players Championship in Michigan, a major on the schedule, to prepare for next week's Senior Open, another major, in Des Moines.
Trevino didn't play in the former and won't play in the latter, mostly because he believes he no longer has the game to win on longer, more difficult courses with lightning-fast greens and high rough. But the winner of six major championships on the PGA Tour is convinced he still has some victories left in him at regular weekly tournaments. And he particularly enjoys this 7,000-yard, 32-year-old course halfway between Washington and Baltimore.
"This is a bump-and-run golf course, the type of course we love to play," Trevino said. "This is the perfect course for the senior player, and for the gallery to walk and watch. The reason people aren't here is the two majors, but I'm too old for those tournaments.
"I said many years ago that when I didn't think I could win a tournament, I wouldn't play in it. There's no sense in going there if I don't think I can win. But I still think I can win on the senior tour, and that's why I came back. Gary Player won at 62. You can put it together for one week. You get in the hunt, the guy in the lead trips up and you're there."
Trevino has won 28 senior events, including seven his first season and six in '94. He won in '98 at San Antonio in a year in which he also had 14 top 25 and seven top 10 finishes in the 27 events he played, including a tie for 33rd here. This season, he has earned $325,000 and has three top 10s, including third at the NFL Golf Classic in Clifton, N.J., three weeks ago.
Despite the absence of the tour's glamour guys, the State Farm Senior Classic is hardly lacking in compelling stories. The tour's two leading money-winners, rookies Bruce Fleisher and Allen Doyle, are here and looking to add to their fortunes.
Fleisher was a longtime journeyman on the PGA Tour who left the game for a seven-year stretch to become a club pro in Massachusetts. He returned at age 42, won his first event, then made a decent living until he moved to the senior tour this season. He won his first two events, has four victories this season and has earned $1.26 million.
"I just think there are late bloomers," Fleisher said. "I won the U.S. Amateur at 19 and I was married at 21. I grew up in the South and didn't really have the extensive amateur background a lot of guys had. I was out on my own, and I struggled with it. When I came back to it in '92, after playing with a lot of these guys again, I realized that maybe I got off [the tour] too soon.
"Obviously this has been exciting. My expectations have certainly been exceeded over what I thought would happen. But now I have to work twice as hard at it. It's also a lot more fun. Success breeds success out here. . . . I certainly don't think I have anything to prove to anyone."
Doyle is No. 2 on the money list with $1.06 million, despite a rather unorthodox slap-shot-style swing. A highly regarded amateur, he turned pro at age 46 in 1995, played on the Nike Tour and won three events, earning him a spot on the PGA Tour in '96. At age 47, he was the oldest rookie in tour history. He has won three times this season.
"I think what Allen and I have done is make for more interesting competition," Fleisher said. "Maybe it was getting a little boring with Hale winning all the time, and he's certainly still around. But I'd like to think we've added something to it that's been good for the tour, too."
CAPTION: Bruce Summerhays is set to defend the State Farm Senior Classic title he won in the event's first year. (Photo ran in an earlier edition)
CAPTION: Bruce Summerhays will defend his title in the State Farm Senior Classic against a field that includes seven of the tour's top 10 money-winners.