CARY, N.C. – After withdrawing from the SAS Championship on Friday as a result of a previous injury, Sir Nick Faldo, a relative rookie on the Champions Tour, probably learned the most important lesson of playing on the ‘senior’ tour.
Longevity and success go hand-in-hand with getting a few breaks.
Champions Tour veteran Jim Thorpe, born and raised in Roxboro, N.C. knows a little bit about that.
The 13-time Tour winner had just finished a post-round putting session when he took a little time to talk about the secret of winning and staying in contention at events like the 2013 SAS Championship which started play at Prestonwood Country Club.
“This tour here, we have a window,” Thorpe said.
“On all the tours, you have to work hard and be lucky also. You have a window out here from 50 until 57 or 58 when you do your damage. Then once you get a little older, it’s not quite the same. You don’t hit it quite as far. Yeah, you’ve made a few dollars and may not be as hungry, but it’s all about hard work and gettin’ a few breaks. It’s a hard game if you’re not gettin’ the breaks.”
As Thorpe was reflecting on his day, carding a first-round five-over-par score of 77, his perspective could have been helpful to Faldo, 56, who didn’t necessarily need to be playing on the Tour as he currently had a successful television career going among other things.
However, Faldo was trying to rekindle his competitive fire after playing in the Open Championship at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland back in July.
“I thought why not, come and give it a go,” Faldo said on Thursday when explaining his reasoning for making his North American Tour debut at the SAS Championship.
However, while giving it a go, Faldo’s body told him that he wasn’t ready to do so, and he withdrew sitting at one-over par at the time.
He came into the tournament with a previous forearm/elbow injury that he was prepared to play with and through, but in the end it caught up with him.
“As you get a little older, you don’t recover near as fast,” Thorpe continued.
“The body is not what it used to be.”
As he described how he pushed himself to play through injury for a period of time, winning eight tournaments from 2003-2007, Thorpe reflected upon how much harder it is playing on Tour after pounding balls as long as he has – since 1972 to be exact.
“The young 50’s are doing the same thing that we did – you was hungry, you wanted to play, and you missed the game. On the Champions Tour, one thing that fools a lot of people is that these guys can play. In order to go out there and be one of the top players and win golf tournaments requires good playin’, hard work, and a lotta’ luck.”
When asked about Faldo’s withdrawal from the tournament which had taken place 30 minutes earlier, Thorpe pointed out how a much longer recovery time is needed to bounce back from injury and to play competitively, particularly on the Champions Tour.
“It takes time,” he said.
“Time heals all wounds. If you give it time, you can heal. Some of the guys come back too soon. Any major injuries – arms, legs, elbows, hands – just requires a lot of time because we beat a lot of balls.”
Thorpe referred to a conversation he had with Hall of Famer Gary Player about being successful and lucky on the Tour.
“Gary Player once said,’ the more you practice, the luckier you get.’ You just gotta’ get that practice in and luck’s gonna’ be on your side. I don’ know no one on this tour that won a golf tournament on pure talent. I mean somewhere along that 54 holes or 72 holes, there was a good bounce or a putt that went in that you pushed or pulled, you had a chip-in to keep your round goin’, made a 20-footer for par, or something of that nature. All those things play a major role when you’re winnin’. When you’re winnin’, you think it’s never gonna’ end, but when it starts goin’ the other way…”
He paused for a moment before concluding, “I think the one thing that we forget is how difficult it is to win out here when you’re competin’ with the best players in the world. Whether it’s the young ones or the old ones, these are the best players in the world. Just winning any golf tournament is a feather in your cap.”
Thus, while Faldo will need to seriously consider if he has missed his window of opportunity in playing regularly on the Champions Tour according to Thorpe’s theory, the native North Carolinian is getting ready to face a reality that all successful Tour players like him must eventually confront.
“I think the hardest thing about this is facing the fact that you’re in the twilight side and reaching the end,” the 64-year-old pro said.
“I think I can still play some decent golf, but as far as winnin’ and gettin’ in contention like we used to 10 years ago – it’s just very hard to do now.”
Regardless, Thorpe will continue to grind it out for the remainder of the SAS Championship, play his game while looking to get some bounces and rolls to go his way, when he tees off at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.