Vino, Veni, Vidi, Vici

By: Marino Parascenzo

Wait! Did Greg Norman know about this? Norman broke his long sabbatical to play in the Constellation Senior Players Championship, not to hawk his wines.

Was Jack Nicklaus on hand to push that $600 grape he just introduced? No way. Even Peter Senior didn't leap at the chance to launch his own brand of that old favorite, Sneaky Pete. Missing the boat though he is.

Yet right there in front of the elegant old clubhouse at Fox Chapel Golf Club, nakedly first in line of player courtesy SUVs, was a long Chevy van with its sides painted like a rolling billboard - "Ernie Els Wines," complete with Els finishing his backswing alongside a bottle of Stellenbosch 2005.

And though golf's "Big Easy" might be pining for a chance to feast on the Champions Tour, he was still serving his apprenticeship on the regular tour. So why that van was on display at a senior event at the classic old club just up-river from Pittsburgh was left to the imagination. It was more fun that way.

The 2012 Ernie Els Huckstermobile did, however, serve to underline a vintage week in senior golf, in which budding surprises challenged the establishment for the tour's flagship event - 81 players, four rounds, no cut, for the richest purse, $2.7 million.

In this case, a budding surprise won.

Joe Daley, age, 51, winner of two Nationwide Tour events and not much else in an itinerant golf career, suddenly found that tunnel vision can pay off. "I don't want to think about a number," said Daley, when the clearly skeptical wondered what he might have to shoot in the final round to win. "I just want to hit a shot and move on to the next one. And if I do that, regardless of the outcome, I'll be a winner."

That's golf guruspeak, but he won both battles - the one with himself, and the one with all the other guys, closing with a 2-under 68, a 14-under 266, and a two-shot win over Tom Lehman for the first real win of his career. (Those two Nationwide Tour wins were all but forgotten.)

Daley was deep in the mix from the start, and he wrapped it up on a day when the heat was at least 95 and the fiery breath from the hounds chasing him was even hotter. He had to hold up under the pressure of the cream of the Champions Tour's crop, guys who had spent their time in the crucible - former British Open champ Tom Lehman, former British Open champ Mark Calcavecchia, and former Masters champ Fred Couples.

Daley knew the odds. "Hall of Famers," he noted. "I knew who they were, I knew what they did."

It developed that he was made of sterner stuff than he'd realized all these years when he was playing mini-tours and anyplace else where they'd let him tee it up for a chance to make a buck.

The shot of the tournament may not have been any chip-in or hole-out, but the hack that Fred Couples took in the rough at No. 2 in the third round. His celebrated back, the one that won't even let him practice, went out.

"From there, I knew it wasn't going to be a nice day," he said. Said Lehman, his playing partner: "He nearly went to his knees. I feel sorry for him."

Couples, who had started 66-63, managed to get home in a par 70, but it was clear that the key factor in the final round was going to be his back.

Except for Couples' killer shot out of the rough, Calcavecchia may have had the shot of the week, on his tap-in at the par-5 18th in the third round. He missed the green with his 3-wood approach, and tried to chip from a sloping bad lie. "I chunked it," he said. The ball barely made it onto the green, 50 feet from the cup.

"I tapped it in for birdie," Calc said. That was for a 64 and a tie with Daley by one over Couples and Lehman.

Daley entered the final round tied with Calcavecchia, and a shot up on Couples and Lehman. "All I was keying on was what I had next, with the best possible attitude, and kept my emotions under control," he said. In golf parlance, that means he didn't choke.

"I thought he might get a little shaky in the back," Calcavecchia said, "but he was solid."

Solid enough that after an early birdie-bogey exchange Daley played the last 10 holes in three birdies and a bogey. And while Lehman offset three birdies with three bogeys and Calcavecchia bogeyed twice, Daley ground out six straight pars from the 11th.

Olin Browne closed with a day's-best 65 and finished third, and Calcavecchia (72) and Couples (71) tied for fourth, four shots back.

Couples wouldn't use his back for an alibi. It's just a fact of his life. "There's not much to say," he said. "I did very well to finish. That's about it. That's just the way it is."

Daley's career to date can be summed up by two putts. The first came in the 2000 PGA Tour qualifying school, in the fourth round of which his four-foot putt dropped into the hole - and bounced right back out. Someone had somehow left the cup liner up too high. He went on to miss his playing card by a stroke.

The next putt was his last one at Fox Chapel. He was just short of the green with his approach, and taking his putter, rapped the ball 18 feet past the cup. Yes, he had the luxury of being able to two-putt from there for the win, but maybe the shakes were starting. But he closed like a champ. He rolled in the bending putt for the birdie.

The standard question: What's the win mean to you?

Daley: "It gets me in next week." Exempt from qualifying: The blessing of all golfers.

The $405,000 was great, but now he was automatically in any tournament field for the next year. No longer would he have to go through the stress of the Monday qualifiers. And he also beat the best in the game.

"I'm my own competition," Daley said. "Have been for years."

The tournament opened with Norman stealing the show. The famous 57-year-old Aussie broke a three-year fast to play in the tournament. He hadn't played real golf since 2009, and the reason, quite simply, is that he'd lost his appetite for it. Recreational golf, yes. Competition, no.

How to describe the feeling? Well, he said, he used to practice by hitting two balls, then tax himself by playing the worst of the two each time. "The hell with that," Norman said, waving it off with a big grin.

What lured him out of this sabbatical was his friendship with two surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Dr. James Bradley (also the team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers), who operated on his knee and shoulder, and Dr. Joseph Maroon, who operated on his back.

Norman spotted the field a bogey on his first hole in three years and then shot a 3-under 67, three off the lead - no small accomplishment for a guy who was scraping rust. But reality caught up with him in the second round. A triple-bogey at the par-4 No. 7 sent him on his way down. He shot 74. And a three-bogey, no-birdie 73 in the third maybe had him wondering why he had bothered. He finished tied for 53rd at 5-over 285.

The early favorite - at least sentimental favorite - was Bill Glasson, a lean and mean-looking golfer, a spare 175-pounder, something of a beach bum with a bit of a swagger. Actually, maybe he's lucky just to be walking.

At age 52, and with 25 surgeries under his belt and everywhere else, Glasson is a walking medical school. Don't ask to see his operations. Let's see - fused neck, fused back, ligaments, tendons, elbow, knee, sinus, forearm, and others. He opened three off the lead and hung on the fringes of contention, shooting all four rounds in the 60s and tied for sixth, five off the lead.

As to his unfailingly upbeat spirit? "Well," Glasson said, "I'm not dead."

The Senior Players opened with a wine theme, and closed with it, but not with an offering from Ernie Els' VinoWagon.

Michael Allen, the tour's leading money winner, took it upon himself to salute the new winner, and he capped off the awards ceremony by presenting Daley with a bottle - Perrier-Jouet champagne.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.

Story Options

Print this Story