BLAINE, Minn. – It was no misprint. World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin competed on Saturday in the Post-It Greats of Golf Challenge, a three-man team scramble, rather than the 3M Championship, a tournament where he notched three of his record 45 Champions Tour titles.
“It’s a strange feeling being at a tournament and not playing in it,” Irwin said. “It’s almost uncomfortable. I feel like a voyeur. It’s like being there for the coin toss but not playing in the game.”
Is the most successful player in the history of the 50-and-over circuit nearing the end of the road? Irwin, who turned 70 in June, is the proverbial lion in winter. He can still break his age, but his skills are eroding, and to make matters worse he has dealt with a hamstring injury suffered while horsing around with one of his grandchildren.
“It just gets tight and it’s tough to fire the hips,” Irwin said. “I’ve played some of my worst holes the last couple of months.”
As a result of the injury, Irwin took time off to let it heal. He hasn’t competed since the U.S. Senior Open in late June. He’s only made nine starts this season – his best result in an individual, full-field event is T-54 – and entered the week ranked No. 89 on the money list. He looked at playing in the Greats of Golf with David Graham and Fuzzy Zoeller as a barometer to determine how capable he is of playing in August and beyond.
“It was going to have to come some time, the decision to slow it down,” he conceded. “I can still play, and still shoot some good scores and feel like I can still stay with these guys, but I can’t do it if I’m hamstrung.”
Irwin was quick to point out he hasn’t made any decisions yet, but he said he may retire next season, which would still allow him to play up to 11 events (plus the British and U.S. Senior Opens and Senior PGA Championship).
“If I can’t play to the best of my abilities then it’s time to rethink. I’m not into a farewell tour. There won’t be a formal announcement,” Irwin said. “I think I’m going to do the retirement thing and still play a good number for what I want to do in terms of spending time with my grandkids and my wife. But I’m not just going to say bye and go home and sit in a rocking chair. I can’t do that. “
No decision will be made until his hamstring permits him a fair shot to evaluate his game. But Irwin acknowledges he is at a crossroads.
“It’s hard for me because I’ve competed for all these years. It’s what I am and I’m facing a new guy, a new situation that I have to adapt to. It’s not going to adapt to me. I have to adapt to it,” he said. “It’s changing the stripes on the zebra a little bit. I’m not afraid of it. I tell people I don’t have a bucket list. I have a barrel. It’s the time to start thinking about it.”