Oldies but goodies: At Legends' Demaret division, memories are relived and created

Oldies but goodies: At Legends’ Demaret division, memories are relived and created

Still at fitness nut at 74, Gary Player kept up with his motorized caddie -- and later won the event.
David Walberg/SI

Zero. That was Frank Beard’s answer last week when he was asked how much tournament golf he’s played in the last couple of years. “And I wasn’t even very interested in playing,” added the 70-year-old widower from Palm Desert, Calif.

So what led the 1969 PGA Tour money-list leader to pack his clubs and fly to Savannah, Ga., for a two-round better-ball competition for septuagenarian tour pros? “Well,” Beard said with characteristic bluntness, “it’s kind of hard to pass up a good paycheck.”

Money, it turns out, still has its allure, even if you’re
playing from the forward tees in the Demaret Division at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. This year’s championship team of Gary Player and Bob Charles—a pair of 74-year-old Hall of Famers—got $120,000 for their record 19-under-par shuffle around the Savannah Harbor Resort course.

“I never, ever, got a $60,000 first prize on the regular Tour,” Player marveled afterward, “even with those nine majors I won.”

Watching these guys on the range, however, you noticed they were more interested in sharing stories than shaping shots. One cluster of pros pulled up their pants legs to compare knee–replacement scars. (“Does yours click?” asked a laughing Homero Blancas. “Mine clicks!”) Another bunch swapped tales of Tour lives gone by, stories that began, “So Butch Baird pulls into this gas station …”

The autograph line, meanwhile, was busier than the putting green. Bob Goalby, who won 11 Tour events between 1958 and 1971, signed for 20 minutes after partnering Dow Finsterwald to a first-round 77, taking special care to write 1968—the year he won his green jacket—on the souvenir Masters flags. “When you reach a certain age and you’re no longer competitive, you forget about the money,” Goalby said. “It’s just good to see the guys and be part of tournament golf again.”

It would be even better, says 14-time Champions tour winner Jay Haas—who happens to be Goalby’s nephew—if Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Don January and the other over-70 pros played on the weekend with the Raphael teams (another two-round flight) and Legends teams (the three-round championship flight). “We’d love to hang out with those guys and listen to their war stories,” Haas said last month at the Masters, “but some of them don’t want to put their games on display any more. And that’s a shame, because people don’t care what they shoot. They’re happy simply to see them again.”

That was true for the Monday-Tuesday galleries at Savannah Harbor. They whooped when Baird thumped his tee shot to within 10 yards of the green on the par-4 14th hole, but they were just as happy when Lee Trevino, after giving a bottle-blonde spectator an amorous hug, quipped, “You don’t have to worry about me—I’m out of pills!” They blinked in disbelief when the team of Don Bies and Tom Shaw started Tuesday’s round with five consecutive birdies, but they were equally pleased watching Hall of Famer Casper, who couldn’t break 80 with partner Fred Hawkins, sign a fan’s 40-year-old Amana cap.

And if the CBS cameras had been in place for the Demaret gang, as they were for the weekend finish of the $2.7 million Legends Division, in which Mark O’Meara and Nick Price edged John Cook and Joey Sindelar with a par on the second playoff hole, the whole world might have seen 72-year-old Al Geiberger—six months after his knee replacement—hole out a 195-yard hybrid shot from the right rough on the par-5 11th for one of the rarest feats in golf, an albatross. When Geiberger got to the green, he took a wary look into the hole before retrieving his ball before bumping knuckles with his playing partners and caddies. “I thought my days of doing anything like that were over,” he said, unable to suppress a smile. Long known as Mr. 59 for breaking 60 at the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, Geiberger was instantly dubbed Mr. 2

The other two that everyone talked about, of course, was Tuesday’s winning pair of Player and Charles, who successfully defended their 2009 Demaret title. “There was some pressure out there today,” said Player, decked out in his head-to-toe White Knight ensemble. “When you get to our age, that hole looks the size of a Bayer aspirin.”

Forgive the runner-up team of Bies and Shaw for guffawing. Player drained an 18-footer for birdie on 14, and Charles, wielding a 45-year-old Bulls Eye putter, sewed up the two-stroke win with a 15-footer on 17.

“We’ll be back next year,” Charles assured the sponsor and Champions tour officials, adding, “When Gary and I get to 80, perhaps you’ll have another division.”