ORLANDO, Fla. – Former long-drive champion Gerry James can bash a golf ball a country mile. Now he’s out to prove that he has enough of an all-around game to play on the Champions Tour.
James, who will turn 50 on March 21, finished among the top 16 finishers at the first stage of Champions Tour Qualifying School on Nov. 6 at MetroWest Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. He advanced to the finals at TPC Scottsdale’s Champions Course on Nov. 17-20.
James high-fived his caddie after his approach shot landed safely across the water and on the green at the final hole. On a day when knees quaked, James credited his short game, of all things, for helping him finish at 3-under 285.
Standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, with Popeye arms and a neck the size of an oak stump, James’ popular trick-shot show doesn’t feature his Phil Mickelson flop shot. He drives for show.
James took a circuitous route to Champions Tour Q-School. He’s a former pro wrestler who has been pinned by the likes of Randy “The Macho Man” Savage and Andre The Giant. James was a bodybuilder and one-time Mr. California. Since turning 30, he has been muscling golf balls to the far end of the driving range and beyond. He is a two-time ReMax Long Drive Champion (45-plus flight). In 2006, he tagged his winning drive 379 yards, longer than Open Division winner Jason Zuback. James said he never tried to qualify for the PGA Tour. The closest he came was a shot at the “Big Break’’ reality show.
“I figured I would wait until I had a little advantage with my driver,” James explained, tongue firmly set in cheek (he crushed one tee shot 375 yards, on MetroWest’s second hole).
Making it through Q-School will be no small feat. The odds seem almost insurmountable: there are just five spots available. But that hasn’t deterred James. He smiled and said, “I’d be out here if we were playing for just one.”
He said he played with confidence that couldn’t be shaken because his friends – PGA Tour rookie Jeff Klauk and former Tour commissioner Deane Beman – have encouraged him with texts and phone calls after every round.
“Deane Beman is the one who convinced me I could do this,” James said. “There’s no reason I can’t.”
With his work here done, he rose from his chair, smiled some more and said, “I really have to be going. I’ve got to make plane reservations now. I haven’t done any of that stuff.”
That’s a good problem to have.
FIRST STAGE RESULTS (Nov. 3-6):