Mike Malone always had dreamed of playing golf professionally, but it wasn't practical in his younger days.

Then, after some long conversations with his wife, Clara, Malone decided he wanted to give the Senior PGA Tour a try when he turned 50.

"We bought a motor home, [I] quit my job and [we] sold the house in that order," said Malone, who had been a club pro in Georgia for 25 years. "I always wanted to play the [PGA] Tour in my younger days. I never really had the opportunity. I got tired of being a club pro, I guess, and decided there was something better out there."

For 3 1/2 years, Malone and his wife lived in a motor home while he gave golf lessons and played on mini-tours. For Malone, it was the opportunity he needed to devote himself full-time to preparing for the senior tour.

After turning 50 in October, Malone finished in the top 16 at the senior tour national qualifying tournament and earned a conditional exemption for the 1999 tour, missing a full exemption by one stroke.

Malone, who shot a 74 yesterday in the first round of the State Farm Senior Classic at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia, has played in nine previous events this year and has earned $45,836. His best finish was a tie for 28th with a 1-under 215 at the Home Depot Invitational in April.

"Last week, I tried for the [U.S.] Senior Open and I missed it by one shot," Malone said. "It's really been tough here lately, but I think it's about to change. I've been one shot here and one shot there and missing a lot of things by one shot."

Local Near the Top

Fred Gibson, a Washington native and graduate of Bladensburg High School, shot a 4-under-par 68 and is tied with five golfers at three strokes off the lead. Gibson spent 15 years as a club professional at several courses in the Washington-Baltimore area and opened a golf school in 1985 at East Potomac Park. . . . Bobby Stroble, the 1985 Maryland Open winner, is four strokes off the lead at 69.

A Super Day

Two Super Seniors, golfers 60 years and older who are playing for an additional $175,000 purse, showed that age has not dulled their skills.

Both Jim Dent, 60, and Bobby Nichols, 63, had first-round eagles. Dent made his on the third hole, while Nichols finished with one on No. 18.

"Sometimes the hole gets in the way and the ball goes right in," Dent said.

Nichols, who once played for legendary football coach Bear Bryant at Texas A&M, called his eagle a "field goal." After sending his ball into the rough to the right of the green on his second shot, he chipped up over a bunker and never saw it drop in the hole.

"It was just one of those things, a no-brainer," Nichols said. "Sometimes you get lucky. It was a nice way to finish."

Fan Precautions

Because of the expected high temperatures and humidity at the tournament through Sunday, tournament officials are recommending that spectators wear light clothing and hats, drink plenty of fluids and apply sunscreen.