Jacklin's pension plan

Paul Trow studies new benefits for old golfers on the US Seniors' Tour
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THEIR wallets are bulging as much as their waistlines. Even by the "milk and honey" standards of the Land of Plenty, seniors golf in America is a licence to print money.

If you tee up in a seniors tournament, you are guaranteed a share of the prize fund because usually there's no cut. The only problem is gaining admission to the cartel in the first place.

First of all, you must be past your 50th birthday - pro golf is full of fortysomethings wishing their lives away; secondly, you need to putt like an angel because seniors' courses are undemanding and on the short side from tee to green; and thirdly, you must have nothing better to do from Friday to Sunday for most of the year.

At the end of the season, health and form permitting, you should be $100,000 better off if you finish around 70th in the money list, $200,000 if you break into the top 50 or $300,000 if you're 30th. To the top performers, that is chickenfeed. Last year Dave Stockton pocketed $1,402,519 for topping the Order of Merit. Five others - Ray Floyd, Jim Albus, Lee Trevino, Jim Colbert and Tom Wargo - all exceeded $1m, and even down in 24th place Graham Marsh, poor fellow, collected $500,000 for less than 70 days' work.

The seniors' tour is the pension plan of their dreams. In one season, a player in his fifties can earn more than he managed in a 25-year career on the regular tour. Dollars and dotage have not dulled the wrinklies' competitive edge, despite Calvin Peete's recent remark that he found it difficult to concentrate because he spent all his time staring in wonder "at my idols".

Another former US Ryder Cup player, J C Snead, summed up the atmosphere recently when he commented: "There's no sentiment out here. These guys are out to kill you every week." In under five seasons as a senior he has raked in more than $2.3m with every prospect of at least that amount again passing through his bank account before advancing years and the arrival of Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins render him less competitive.

The competition will be fierce this week at Congressional in Maryland when the caravan pitches up for the 16th US Seniors' Open. Apart from being one of the few 72-hole events on the rota - most senior tournaments span only three rounds - the conditions are considerably more difficult than at any other venue. The defending champion is South Africa's Simon Hobday, once a serial hell-raiser on the European tour and now having the time of his life.

As each year goes by the field gets stronger. Among the new old boys on parade this week will be two of British golf's finest, Tony Jacklin and Brian Barnes, along with three-times US Open champion Hale Irwin. Jacklin is the oldest, having turned 50 last July, too late for the 1994 championship, but Barnes and Irwin only reached their half-centuries this month.

Within three weeks of joining the seniors, Jacklin had won the First of America Classic at Egypt Valley in Michigan. The former Open and US Open champion eventually finished 37th in the Order of Merit with $221,384, and has since added $168,800 - not bad for someone who has not even completed 12 months on tour.

Unable to recapture a semblance of his old form, Jacklin had been in the doldrums for more than a decade. Then one morning he woke up in his Scottish mansion and experienced a road-to-Damascus style conversion. "It may sound crazy, but I suddenly had this overwhelming desire to get my golf shoes and clubs and play again," he said. "I realised that golf is what I can control. Looking at America, I could see Nicklaus, Trevino and Floyd, all my main rivals, doing sensationally well. It disturbed me to think I might turn 55 and have let this opportunity slip by. I wanted a second chance."

A second chance is very much what Barnes, a reformed alcoholic, has given himself. Like Jacklin, he is being managed by Jack Nicklaus's Golden Bear company, and already he has banked the biggest cheque of his career, $27,133, in last week's Dallas Reunion Pro-am.

Barnes, back for the British Seniors Open at Carnoustie next month, said: "I've been a fool to myself. I could have probably done a bloody sight better if I hadn't drunk and if I'd concentrated a little harder."

While Jacklin was exempt, Barnes had to secure his place at Congressional the hard way last week, shooting a level-par 72 to take one of the four qualifying spots at Boynton Beach, Florida. Now he is hoping for a breakthrough to the land of milk and guaranteed money.