CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Willie Wood Monday qualified for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, he started running names through his mind for potential partners to play a practice round.
And one by one, he was coming up empty.
“Let’s see, he’s not out here, he’s not here, he’s not here …” said Wood, 50, about moving down his list. “So I played with Edoardo Molinari. Very, very nice guy. I’d seen him on TV.”
Of course, Italy’s Molinari was only 3 when Wood was a rookie on the PGA Tour, and many others in the field this week at Wells Fargo probably don’t know much, if anything, about the gritty, 5-foot-7 former Walker Cup player and Q-School medalist who turned 50 last fall and now has his eyes set mainly on the Champions Tour.
Wood has partial status on the Champions, and expects to get roughly 10 starts this season. Right now, he’s got this month’s 72nd Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla on his mind, so to stay sharp, he made the trek from Oklahoma to Charlotte to try his hand at Monday qualifying against the kids at Carolina Golf Club. In a field of 91 players, Wood shot 5-under 65 to earn one of four spots. Early Thursday afternoon he’ll tee it up alongside Kevin Na and Mathew Goggin.
“I really need to play. I’d really like to play good here and make a good check,” he said. “I played here years ago, before they got the (PGA Tour) tournament.” Then he smiled. “The course does seem a little longer than I remember.”
As he hit balls on the range Tuesday, the presence of prodigious distance all around him and a new style of athlete playing on the PGA Tour did not escape him.
“I think it’s a combination of things, really,” he said. “The clubs are bigger, the longer hitters are bigger. They can fit these guys with equipment nowadays. I mean think about it: I played with (6-foot-7) Phil Blackmar, and you wonder how he did it. He used to have to swing a 43 1/2 inch driver like the rest of us did, with a heavy steel shaft. Now they’ve brought in everybody to the game. Baseball players, basketball players … everyone.”