Golf: A new convert comes of age

Andy Farrell finds Peter Oosterhuis ready to join Europe's golden tour for oldies
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THE last time the name of Peter Oosterhuis cropped up, it was being linked with the vacant position of Ryder Cup captain. As a six-time player, the gentle giant from Dulwich College deserves to be in the running. After winning the European Order of Merit four times in a row in the early Seventies, Oosterhuis played and lived in America before spending the last couple of years in Europe travelling the tour as a TV commentator.

Since there is nothing wrong with his credentials, the only problem is that Oosterhuis is about to become a very busy person. He has just landed a high- profile job on the CBS commentary team in America, where he will join David Feherty, and in May turns 50. That means he will be eligible for his pension, or rather the Seniors Tour.

It is a mark of how the European Seniors circuit has progressed in its short, six-year lifetime that Oosterhuis, who is now based in Scottsdale, Arizona, is prepared to live a transatlantic existence to play.

"Peter asked us to fax him a schedule in December and we can now send him the official version," said Andy Stubbs, the managing director of the European Seniors Tour. "He wants to support us and is trying to work out where he can play."

The schedule shows 20 events, three more than last year, with prize money over pounds 2.5m, an increase of 24 per cent. Christy O'Connor Jnr reaches the magic 50 in August, while Brian Barnes and Tony Jacklin should appear more after failing to maintain their cards in America. Tommy Horton, with 6 wins in 15 starts last year, remains the man to beat.

Stubbs cannot yet rival the US Seniors Tour for prize money and number of events, but a firm base has been established. "For the first time, we can provide a direct alternative to the US schedule," he said.

"This is a result of the strength of the regular tour. From May to October, the opportunities to jump on to the main tour are few. But we can give sponsors value for money and with two days of pro-ams each week they can give up to 120 guests a wonderful day out."

This growth has been achieved at the same time that the European Women's Tour has lost more sponsors and events than it has gained. How they must envy the Seniors who have attracted 17 new sponsors in the last three years.

A Seniors Ryder Cup is also on Stubbs' agenda, possibly starting in 2000. "The opportunity to recreate the great matches of the past is too good to miss. While our bigger stars are still to reach 50, it would be good to get it going before the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino are too old to play."