There’s something to be said about being the new kid on the block. Even at 50 years old. That’s the beauty of being a PGA TOUR Champions rookie, writes Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter Rick Brown.
A 50th birthday cake includes a new tour. A new opportunity to play golf at a competitive level, against guys you went toe-to-toe with during your PGA TOUR days.
And events like the Principal Charity Classic constantly reinvent themselves. Each season provides fans an opportunity to see the next wave of eligible players. Last year, Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III made his first appearance. This year, the new headliners include John Daly and Miguel Ángel Jiménez.
In the Principal Charity Classic’s 15-year history, there have been 309 different players in the field. The 2015 field included 14 new faces. There were 16 newcomers in 2014.
Daly isn’t the only multiple PGA TOUR winner or major champion playing in his first Principal Charity Classic next month. Todd Hamilton’s name is on the Claret Jug after winning the British Open in 2004, when he beat Ernie Els in a playoff. Earlier that year, Hamilton birdied the final two holes to edge Love by a shot at the Honda Classic. Craig Parry, a two-timer winner on the PGA TOUR, will also be here.
Eligible to play in 2017 will be David Toms (he turns 50 on Jan. 4, 2017) and Steve Stricker (Feb. 23).
That’s the reinvention I spoke of. But there’s always an exception to the rule.
Gil Morgan is the only player to tee it up in all 15 Principal events. He won the title in 2006 at Glen Oaks, the 24th of his 25 PGA TOUR Champions victories.
Morgan, who was this tournament’s first first-round leader back in 2001, turns 70 years old in August. And he’ll keep his Principal streak alive, too, committing to this event last week.
When the Principal Charity Classic made its debut at Glen Oaks in 2001, Daly was 10 years removed from his PGA Championship, and six years removed from his British Open crown. But his fifth and final victory on the PGA TOUR, the 2004 Buick Invitational, was three years in the future.
Daly got lost in the PGA TOUR shuffle in recent years, a card without a deck. He didn’t have a steady place to tee it up.
“It’s been pretty tough the last few years not knowing where I’m going to play and waiting by the phone on exemptions and stuff,” Daly said. “And now that I have a category here that I can play a few years and get a schedule going, it will be good for me.”
Jiménez has won three times on the PGA TOUR Champions so far, including this year’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic when he outdueled Scott Dunlap and Iowa native Jerry Smith over the final few holes. Jiménez also won the 2015 Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai and the 2014 Greater Gwinett Championship.
Daly and Jiménez will bring matching free spirits to the Principal Charity Classic.
Daly’s grip-it-and-rip-it style draws attention. So does Jiménez’s unique stretching routine. And he is, as the late Stuart Scott used to say on ESPN, cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Daly is expected to make the popularity meter work overtime when he arrives at the Wakonda Club.
“I hear people say, ‘John, you ought to be in the (World Golf Hall of Fame),’ stuff like that,” Daly said. “And I always tell people, ‘Look, I’m already in the Hall of Fame because I’ve got the greatest fans in the world. No matter what, through thick and thin, they’ve always stuck by me.’ ”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter