Eichelberger, 67, earns spot in Sony Open field

Dave Eichelberger says he has no expectations this week at the Sony Open.
Chris Condon/Getty Images

HONOLULU — Most of the players at this week's Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club have never played the game with anything other than metal woods, graphite shafts, and a Titleist ProV1, or something comparable. They text. They tweet. They watch HBO but are deathly allergic to PBS — LOL.

And then there's Dave Eichelberger, the tall (6 feet, 1 inch) gentleman with the wavy, silver hair, who stood out on the practice green Tuesday like a mint Model T in a fleet full of late-model sedans. Eichelberger shot his age, 67, to win the Aloha Section PGA Professional Championship last September, earning a spot in this week's field.

"Actually, I've been surprised," he said when asked how many of the players he recognized here. "I ran into Rocco Mediate, who was around 20 years ago, and Billy Mayfair and Duffy Waldorf. I'd say I know maybe 15 of the 140 or so guys. I know more of the caddies."

Eichelberger was a mainstay on Tour from 1968 to '91. He won four times, twice in Milwaukee. Tony Navarro, who now caddies for Adam Scott, got his first win with Eichelberger at the 1981 Tallahassee Open.

"He hit it to like a foot to beat Bob Murphy and Mark O'Meara in a playoff," says Navarro, who is staying at Eichelberger's house this week, about 10 minutes from the course. "He holed out two 8-irons that week. That's when they called him Eagle-berger. He was a player favorite on Tour, and he had time for everyone. He treated me like a friend, not an employee."

Eichelberger thrived at a time when only 60 players, not 125, were fully exempt. He won six times on the Champions Tour, and last played the Sony after Monday-qualifying for the event in 2004, at age 60.

To get a sense of Eichelberger's era, consider that he played his first Masters in 1965, and one of his playing partners was Henry Picard, a leading player of the 1930s. Eichelberger remembers playing the Sony when the tournament used real pineapples for tee markers.

"By the time you got around to 13 or 14, those pineapples would be mush," he said. "The tops would be missing from some of them."

Eichelberger is a Texas native, but he moved here from New Canaan, Conn., in 2003. His 13-year-old twins, a boy, Davis, and a girl, Emalia, are in seventh grade at Punahou School, alma mater of Barack Obama, as well as Parker McLachlin and Michelle Wie.

A Waialae member, Eichelberger plays the course three or four times a week, and his best score was the 62 he shot at age 65, two years ago. His best round since he turned 67 has been a 66. Alas, that was from the white (members') tees. "We play the back tees once a week," he said.

How will he do when the course is stretched to its full, PGA Tour-approved length of 7,044 yards? That was the question on the minds of some of Eichelberger's fellow competitors. He shot 79-78 to miss the cut in '04.

Jerry Barber was the oldest to play a Tour event, just shy of 78 years old when he played the 1994 Buick Invitational.

Sam Snead became the oldest player to make a cut on Tour when he finished T47 at the 1979 Manufacturers Hanover Classic at Westchester C.C. Snead was 67 years, two months and 21 days old.

Said Eichelberger, who would be 67 years, four months and 11 days old (breaking the record) if he makes Friday's cut: "I have no expectations."

 

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