For Sindelar, it's time to move on to the Champions Tour

For Sindelar, it’s time to move on to the Champions Tour

Joey Sindelar will turn 50 in March.
Steve Grayson/

You know you’re near the end of the line on the PGA Tour when …

The lady at the tournament registration desk sees the lines in your face and your ample waistline and directs you to the spot where amateurs check in for the pro-am.

Tournament security officials look skeptical and ask to see your identification when you tell them you’re a player.

You don’t recognize anyone in the players dining room.

You’re enjoying lunch in the Bay Hill clubhouse and the waiter congratulates your teenage son on making the cut because he thought the kid was you.

Joey Sindelar has been through all that. He’ll turn 50 in March, and when he finished the last hole at the Children’s Miracle Network Championship recently, it was the end of an era for him. He’ll try to beg his way into four or five PGA Tour events early next year, but only so he can tune up for his Champions Tour debut. Getting invites shouldn’t be a problem for Sindelar, a pretty good player and one of the Tour’s legendary nice guys.

Sindelar was a three-time All-American at Ohio State and was a member of the 1979 NCAA championship team. His oldest son, Jamison, is heading there to play golf next fall. He won seven times on Tour but wasn’t really a guy who threatened to win majors. The last time he played in a Masters was 1993, and he only teed it up in a British Open once. He has two top-10 finishes in major championships — sixth at the ’92 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and tenth at the ’97 PGA Championship at Winged Foot.

He did achieve one rare feat at the ’06 PGA Championship at Medinah. He made a double eagle, only the third in tournament history, when he holed a 241-yard 3-wood shot at the fifth hole.

A power player who grew up in little Horseheads, N.Y., Sindelar never looked like a PGA Tour clone, all slim and blond and tall. He was thick and squat and quick with a smile, without ego, and among the Tour’s most personable players. He was always near the top of any poll of players’ favorite playing partners.

Sindelar was a throwback in many respects. His trademark was a sweat-stained golf shirt and a towel tossed over one shoulder. He carries a 1-iron and loves to pound it off the tee.

And he is the rare player who never sacked his caddie. He still has John Buchna on his bag. “He came up to me 24 years ago, this skinny little rat in the parking lot at the Bob Hope Classic, and said, Mr. Sindelar, if you ever need help, I’m the one,” Sindelar recalled. “Here we are, 24 years later. It couldn’t have been better.”

It’s been a good run, a better-than-average career. His banner year was 1988, when he won the Honda Classic and The International, had 10 top-10 finishes and ranked third on the money list. It was lofty stuff.

He never again cracked the top 30 on the money list, and his next win, in 1990, was his last until he beat a stacked field at the 2004 Wachovia Championship. That was the biggest win of his life.

“It wasn’t even about the money,” Sindelar said. “The money was awesome, but it was third or fourth on my list. It was the eligibility for two years. That got me to 48, and then I had to earn this year. It was my bridge to the senior tour. Of course, I would’ve loved to finish in the top 125 this year and be able to call my own shots for 2008, but my real mission was to still be playing when I hit 50.”

He succeeded. He’s part of the next generation of Champions Tour players, the guys who knew early on that the over-50 tour would be waiting for them. They had a reason to keep grinding for two decades. Players like Fred Funk and Jay Haas have wrestled with the dilemma of which tour to play at 50, but Sindelar has no such problem.

“I don’t have any status on the PGA Tour, and I’m good with that,” said Sindelar. His place is in senior golf, and he knows it. He was never in danger of keeping his Tour card in 2007, and this year’s shorter season didn’t work to his advantage.

“I’m a second-half player, and guess what? There wasn’t any second half for me,” Sindelar said, referring to the restricted fields for the FedEx Cup playoff events. “I was behind the eight ball early, as usual, and then three of my very favorite tournaments — Westchester, Chicago and Deutsche Bank — I didn’t even get to play. I had a month off.”

He won $11 million in his career, which started in earnest when he made it through Q-school in 1984. That’s a memory he won’t forget.

“I was so nervous at Q-school,” he said. “It was at the TPC at Sawgrass. I shot 66 or 67 in the fifth round to lock up my card — and the round got rained out. Then I shot another. I got all the way around to the 18th tee and still wasn’t sure if I wasn’t going to make it. I kept it dry, got it on the green and three-putted and got on Tour. When you look back, all those struggles turn out to be the sweetest part of the deal. You remember all the battles you fought and won. It was very rewarding.”

That sense of nostalgia followed him to Tour stops all year. His game is solid, but he’s ready for senior golf. “I’m happy with what I’m taking there,” he said. “I just hope I can be a top 15 or 20 regular finisher.”

On the plus side, he’ll likely be recognized when he checks in on the Champions Tour. And when he walks into the players’ dining area, he’ll know every face. He’ll be home again.