Rod Pampling – file photo – Bruce Young
The PGA Tour Champions has seen an increase in the number of Australasian participants in recent times, the lucrative 50 and over playground for former PGA Tour players and others good enough to earn the right to play there proving a happy hunting ground for recently turned 50-year-olds.
In the early stages of the PGA Tour Champions players such as Peter Thomson, Bob Charles, Bruce Crampton, Graham Marsh, Stewart Ginn, Rodger Davis and more recently Peter Senior represented this part of the world well but there are now greater numbers involved.
At this week’s Sanford International in Sioux Falls in South Dakota, seven Australasians are doing battle with a field that includes at least 15 former major champions and several are doing well in the event’s early stages.
Queensland’s Rod Pampling, who is in his second year on the PGA Tour Champions, heads the down under brigade after the opening round of this week’s event, his recent breakthrough win at the Boeing Classic in Washington State providing the catalyst for even further improvement.
51 year old Pampling opened with a round of 64 today to be tied for 2nd place and just one behind the leader, K.J. Choi. A bogey at his final hole on day after a flyer from the rough one cost Pampling the chance to share the lead but he is nicely placed ahead of the final 36 holes in the 54-hole event.
Pampling is enjoying that he is now playing courses he has played previously now that he is in his second season on the PGA Tour Champions.
“It’s been nice because now they’re playing courses that I know now,” said the three-time PGA Tour winner. “So last year was not quite sure on some of the holes, but now sort of getting to the stage where I know the courses, so it’s a nice bit of familiarity there. We’re just going with that and so far it’s been working good.”
New Zealand’s Steve Alker, without status on the PGA Tour Champions, gained access to the Boeing Classic via Monday qualifying a few weeks ago and has already turned a few heads with his performances to date.
In just three events, Alker has won US$253,000, one of those finishes when 3rd at the Ally Championship in Michigan and in each start he has finished inside the top ten earning the right to play the following week’s event because of that.
The money Alker has accumulated in that short time has him currently in 65th place in the Schwab Cup money list and if he can finish inside the top 36 he gains full access to PGA Tour Champions events next year and if inside the top 54 he will likely gain starts at half the events in 2022.
If he does not achieve those goals then he will be required to attend the cut throat Tour School qualifying process.
Alker opened this week’s event with another solid round of 65 to be tied for 7th and on track for another good week.
Melbourne born but Tamworth raised, Mark Hensby, a player good enough to have won on the PGA Tour and represented the Internationals in the Presidents Cup in his halcyon year of 2005, is playing in one of his first PGA Tour Champions events and is also tied for 7th along with Alker after his opening round of 65.
Hensby Monday qualified to gain access to the field and, like Alker, he could well make an immediate impact at this level despite a tough time in recent years battling to retain even Korn Ferry Tour status.
John Senden opened with a round of 67 today, David McKenzie 68, Stephen Leaney 69 and Robert Allenby 72.