Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Before Michael Allen teed off in the final round Sunday, Fuzzy Zoeller told him, “Play like you’re broke.” Allen did a good job of heeding the advice, for he went on to win the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am of Tampa Bay by three strokes over Kenny Perry.
Three days later at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, Allen made it clear he knew what “playing broke” felt like. He talked off having “hard times” as a young professional, to the point he and his wife couldn’t afford insurance for their children.
“When your income is $16,000, there’s not enough for insurance, too,” he said here at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa.
That was then, this is now.
Allen, 53, leads the 2012 Champions Tour in earnings thanks to the victory and three other top-10 finishes in six starts.
The Tampa success ended nearly a three-year drought, spanning 40 tournaments, for Allen. He won the 2009 Senior PGA Championship in his first over-50 event. After that, he had five runner-up finishes without winning, until Sunday.
“The biggest problem has been cleaning out my phone,” Allen said of congratulatory calls and text messages. “It’s taken two days to get where my text messages weren’t full. It’s a nice distraction.”
Allen never won on the PGA Tour, where he admits to having been afraid and intimidated at times. He even quit competitive golf for about three years, building homes and working as a Winged Foot assistant pro.
The absence fueled his hunger, made him miss competition. Now he craves it. As for this year’s success, he credits a new exercise regimen and continued work with instructor Mike Mitchell.
“It’s hard to win tournaments, but I feel if I play well I should be in contention,” Allen said. “Competition doesn’t scare me like it used to.”
Clearly the “fun” over-50 league agrees with his personality (and banker) for, as he said, “it’s not life and death.”
His goals for the year are simple: win the Tour’s Charles Schwab Cup and qualify for the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, where he joined at 14 and remains a member. The membership there ramped up his interest in golf, which had been secondary to rock climbing and hiking for him.
“I just want to get in (the Open field),” said Allen, who will attempt 36-hole qualifying June 4 at Lake Merced in San Francisco. “It doesn’t even matter how I’d play.”
• Different year, same inspiration. Ken Green – who suffered the loss of his lower right leg in a June 2009 recreational-vehicle accident that also claimed the lives of his brother, girlfriend and dog – is back at the Legends of Golf. He has dropped down a division this year, pairing with Mike Reid in the 36-hole Raphael Division (ages 50-69, non-official money).
Green still fights constant pain. Some days are better than others.
“Every day is bizarre,” he said as he teed off in the Wednesday pro-am. “Yesterday was not good, but today is as good as it’s been.”
Green said his goal is to contend in the 13-team division, but added, “I don’t know how it’s going to happen.”
Two things are certain: Green will continue to inspire, and he’ll draw strength from golf.
“Golf is what keeps me going,” he said after hooking a drive into left rough. “If I didn’t have this, I’d probably slowly rot away. I’m not going to give up on that hope.”
• Water and bunkers weren’t the only hazards Wednesday at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Pro- Am. An alligator about 6 feet long crossed the 11th tee and came to rest momentarily on the 12th green, halting play for about 5 minutes and forcing Roger Maltbie back into his cart.
Ponds, pot bunkers and trees never looked so good.
• Frank Beard and Larry Ziegler lost a playoff to J.C. Snead and Gibby Gilbert in the two-day Demaret Division (over age 70) after both finished with a best-ball total of 21-under 123 on the 6,127-yard setup.
That said, Beard’s second round was the talk of that part of the tournament. He and Ziegler shot 12-under 60, and Beard shot 62 on his own ball, according to playing competitor Lee Trevino and others.
Shooting 10 under par in any competition is remarkable. Shooting 10 under your birth certificate is one for the ages.
• Aces are wild on the 2012 PGA Tour. Already there have been 22 holes-in-one through 17 tournaments. That’s one less ace than were recorded in 45 events all of last year.
The Tour record (since 1971) is 44, in 1994. Hal Sutton leads with the most recorded aces (10) since 1971. He’s followed by Hubert Green and Robert Allenby, with eight apiece, and Scott Hoch, Gil Morgan, Corey Pavin, Bob Tway, Lanny Wadkins and Willie Wood (seven).
• Speaking of Trevino, he and Mike Hill finished third in the Demaret, two shots back. Afterward, Trevino bemoaned his putting “yips” in a typically entertaining way.
“I told (Hill) I’m going to get one of those damn belly putters and learn how to putt,” Trevino said.
Trevino and Hill met decades ago on the regular Tour but became closer after Hill joined the Champions Tour.
“When he came out, I had won like three of four tournaments and I told him, “If you just stay close to me, you’ll be rich.” After Hill won soon after, Trevino told him, “You’re getting too close.”