Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Getting Better with Age; Veteran Players Explain Success

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Getting Better with Age; Veteran Players Explain Success

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, Times-Union sports writer

Even though Tiger Woods leads the PGATour in victories and earnings, the running story on Tour this year has been the resurgence of 40-and-over players such as Kenny Perry, Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Scott Hoch and Peter Jacobsen.

Perry and Couples had been written off. Hoch and Jacobsen may have been planning their Champions Tour schedules. Stadler had won on the Champions Tour before returning to the Tour for a week and squeezing in a victory in the B.C. Open -- a first in Tour history.

Those players frequently cite the same factors: better equipment, more dedication to physical conditioning and nutrition, and motivation with wanting to prove they still had some fire in the furnace.

Those reasons can be applied to almost any level of golf -- including the First Coast, where players approaching or past their 40th birthday are dominating the Northern Chapter PGA points list and monthly tournaments.

The top two players on the chapter points list, Walter Smith of the Plantation Oaks Golf Club and Kirk Jones of Golf-Fit (a Jacksonville indoor learning center), are both 40 or older. In addition, seven of the top-10 players are in their 40s, as are 10 of the top-20. The list is chronologically topped by 51-year-old Stockton Rogers, an assistant professional at Queen's Harbour.

Other pros in their 40s who are enjoying good seasons at the chapter and section level are Gary Murfitt of Hyde Park and Todd Bork of San Jose (both 40), Dave Bartoe of the St. Johns Golf and Country Club (48) and Dave Barr of the Jacksonville Golf and Country Club and Jon Fine of the Windy Harbor Golf Club (both 44).

A group of amateur players in the area who are 40 or older also are threats to win any given event. Robert Goettlicher won the Hillyer Amateur in 1999 and 2000 and has played for the amateurs in the last seven Northern Chapter Cup matches; two weeks ago, 56-year-old Gary Verble matched the low round of the tournament with a 67 at Deerwood, and finished in a tie for sixth.

That most of those names are among the top players in the chapter shouldn't be a surprise. Smith has been among the top pros in the chapter for years, and holds most of the professional records in the Cup Matches. Jones, since moving to the area from Ocala, is second to Smith in the points race. Barr is a former PGA Tour player and Murfitt and Bork have played in a combined 18 Cup Matches.

But they're staying on top through the same combination that seems to be working on the PGA Tour.

"There's no question that equipment is helping us keep up," said Jones. "I won a long-drive contest in college with about a 260-yard drive, but now, I'm 20 yards longer on a consistent basis."

"Equipment is the great equalizer between the younger players and older players at any level," Verble said. …

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