LA QUINTA, Calif. – The everlasting beauty of golf lies in its longevity. We can play the game as long as we are healthy enough to swing a club and agile enough to navigate the course. Nobody will question our athletic legitimacy or kick us off the premises for being too old.
The PGA Tour didn’t blink when Tommy Armour III, 52, entered the 2011 Q-School. Several of the best players in this tournament are half his age.
The same goes for 47-year-old Lee Janzen, the two-time U.S. Open champion who won his first major championship before some of these Q-Schoolers were old enough for grade school.
After five rounds of the Q-School – with one round still to play – Marco Dawson, 48, is leading at 17 under. Armour is 2 over and Janzen is 4 under. The top 25 players, plus ties, will earn PGA Tour cards. The 25th spot is at 7 under.
There is something about Janzen, in addition to his two U.S. Open titles, that sets him apart from most golfers, old or young. He is so serious and so analytical about golf that he could be the prototype for thinking golfers of any age.
“Stats-wise, you have to make putts between 4 and 10 feet,” Janzen said. “That’s the difference maker. I’m not making as many of those as I should. The top players make them. If you want to be one of those guys, you have to make those putts.”
There are no free passes on the PGA Tour. Janzen has won eight times in his 25-year professional career, but it means nothing here.
The final stage of Q-School at PGA West has four major champions (Janzen, Rich Beem, David Duval and Shaun Micheel), six Ryder Cup players (Janzen, Duval, Jeff Maggert, Vaughn Taylor, Boo Weekley and Brett Wetterich), and a total of 26 former winners on the PGA Tour.
All players are equal at Q-School, which is just fine with Janzen. Another two-time U.S. Open champion might feel entitled to eternal exempt status on the PGA Tour, but not this warrior.
“I want to earn my way onto the regular tour,” Janzen said. “I’m not buying time for the senior tour. I’m trying to do the best I can right now. I drive the ball far enough. I’m hitting enough greens. I chip well.”
For half a dozen years, Janzen has been a student of teacher Mike Bender.
“He’s really smart,” Janzen said. “I could say I wish I’d have gone to him 20 years ago, but I don’t know that I would have listened to him. He’s helped me a lot, and not just on my swing – how to practice better, what I should be thinking about in my practice.”
Janzen also has a trainer, Chuck Wolf. “For the most part, this is the best I’ve felt in years,” Janzen said.
In 1999, Janzen was rear-ended in a car accident. He suffered severe whiplash but was not hospitalized.
“I didn’t think it was anything,” he said, “but looking back, it probably had a bigger effect than I realized. I think I’ve been really good at getting ahead of it, making sure nothing flares up. My knees feel better. My hips feel better.”
With this obstacle in the past, Janzen sounds like a man who wants to remain a full-time golfer.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I want to be as healthy as I can be when I’m in my 50s, but I’m not looking ahead. I want to shoot low scores on the regular tour. We all dream of winning, don’t we?”
Who says Janzen or anybody else is too old to win on the PGA Tour?
“That’s the great thing about this sport,” he said. “No matter how old you get, if you shoot the scores, they can’t tell you you can’t play any more.”
And off he went to the practice putting green, staring down those elusive putts under 10 feet.