There will only be two majors on the PGA Tour Champions circuit this season, and stars of that tour want to win the first one because it brings extra benefits.
Winners of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, being held this weekend at historic Firestone Country Club, know that there’s an extra perk with victory: a spot in next year’s PLAYERS Championship on the regular tour.
“It’s one of the epic golf courses that you can possibly play,” Fred Couples said about Firestone.
Couples has one victory already in the Senior Players, and that was in 2011 when he was in his second full season as a senior. He has also won the Senior British Open for a total of two majors on that tour as well as the Masters and two PLAYERS Championships on the regular tour.
“My only shot of getting back to Ponte Vedra, is to win this tournament,” he added. “I think that’s the great thing the Tour does.”
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Steve Stricker, the current Ryder Cup captain, has only been on the PGA Tour Champions for three seasons, and he has won two Senior majors, the Regions Tradition and the U.S. Senior Open.
“Everybody knows what a special place this is,” Stricker noted about Firestone. “For us on the Champions Tour to be playing for the SENIOR PLAYERS and a spot on THE PLAYERS Championship field, there’s a lot of motivation there for us to play well.”
For Ernie Els, returning to Firestone is like returning to an old adversary.
“Back in those days it was getting to the end of the season, and I would say I was a little tired coming in,” he admitted. “You can’t be tired around this golf course, it’s a beast!”
Els is a four-time major champion with two victories each in the British Open and the U.S. Open.
Right now, all three are happy to be playing golf again.
“I’m going to be 51 in October and I’ve only played I think four events,” Els said, “so I would like to play more events. Hopefully, we can stay safe and keep it clean and we can keep playing.”
He has already played in two PGA Tour events, The RBC Heritage and The Memorial, since golf has resumed.
Stricker has been the most active of the three since golf returned. He has played the Charles Schwab Challenge, Rocket Mortgage Classic, Workday Charity Open, The Memorial and the PGA before heading to Firestone.
“I played some practice rounds with some guys last week at the PGA Championship, and they asked me where I was going next, I told them I’m coming here, and they were all jealous,” Stricker said about the reputation of Firestone Country Club.
During the layoff, he got hooked on Fortnite.
“It’s kind of consumed some of my time, even lately,” he said. “I’m trying to wean myself off that game.”
Millions of people know exactly how he feels.
Couples has not played since March. No one at Firestone asked him whether he’d been on the sofa, long one of his favorite places to watch sports, mainly because there haven’t been any sports to watch.
“I have done nothing major except play a little golf and enjoy the time off, even though it’s a bad time to enjoy time off,” he said referring to the COVID problem.
He has spent time watching old movies and playing golf in Palm Springs and Newport Beach.
Couples then offered up one of what people consider his Yogi Berra type statements when he said, “When you’re in Palm Springs, you kind of don’t see the world, except on TV. And everything was beautiful there.”
As someone who has lived in that area, I have to say, he’s right. It’s remote to the world. However, this time of year, it’s more likely that he’s been in Newport Beach since it‘s supposed to be 120 this week in Palm Springs. That’s when you can get scorched touching your steering wheel or seat belt buckle.