Sunday, July 6, 1997
For Powell, could have
is now can

The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - Jimmy Powell has made almost $3 million at the senior golf scam. He has a place in California, and another in Nevada. New cars. Nice clothes.

The Senior Tour has delivered him from the drudgery of renting golf carts, and brought him some of the wonders of wealth. Yet if you ask Powell to identify the biggest difference in his late-breaking life, it is an intangible.

"Tranquility," he said.

Those who sneer at the nouveau riche never-weres of geriatric golf - and you know who you are - too often neglect the poetic justice of this tour. They look at a leaderboard with the likes of Jay Sigel and Dave Ojala and Jimmy Powell and see only obscurity. They miss the pathos.

Jimmy Powell was leading the Bakersfield Open back in 1962 when his playing career was cruelly, suddenly cut short. He was drilling with his driver on the practice tee, preparing to protect his lead before the third round of the tournament, when a sharp pain in his back knocked him to his knees. A muscle had ripped away from the rib cage. This is how a talented player becomes a club pro, and is left to wonder what might have been.

"I was a good player," Powell said Saturday. "I drove the ball a long way. I think I would have been a winner. Naturally, you don't know what you've missed, what you could have or would have or should have done. But sure, I've wondered about that."

Billy Casper won the 1962 Bakersfield Open, and went on to win 51 times on the PGA Tour. Jimmy Powell played 83 tour events and collected a modest $27,796. He played 15 tournaments in 1963 and totaled $480 in prize money. He would never finish better than sixth at any stop on the regular tour, but he never convinced himself that he couldn't change the underlying sadness of his story line.

In 1980, at the age of 45, Powell was the oldest student in the tour's qualifying school, and earned a second chance at the big time. Eight years later, on his 53rd birthday, he allowed his management contract at Dallas' Stevens Park Golf Club to run out to join the gold rush of senior golf.

The money has been magical. Powell earned $18,000 Saturday as the highest-ranking over-60 player after two rounds of the Kroger Senior Classic. He followed his first-round 66 with a three-under-par 68, and stands five shots behind Sigel entering today's final round. Yet it is competition as much as cash that drives Powell at this point. Having lost so much of his prime to a problem back, it is as if he is determined to balance the scales - to reach a kind of closure. "This is just a second life out there," he said Saturday. "I play the game for money, but money is not the essence. It's just the means to an end. I love golf. I've played golf all my life. I always thought I would have been a contender."

Powell has won four times on the Senior Tour. Last year, at the Brickyard Crossing Championship in Indianapolis, he became the second-oldest player ever to win a tournament at 61 years, 8 months and 5 days. Even at this level, it is a young man's game - fewer than 2 percent of Senior Tour events are won by players in their 60s.

Powell persists out of love for the competition, and out of the conviction that he can still play.

Late trouble

He was within one shot of Sigel Saturday with six holes to play, but allowed some daylight to develop late in his round. On No. 17, his tee shot rolled perhaps 1 foot off the fairway, necessitating an approach shot from behind a tree.

"I thought I could hit a six iron out of there, and I hit a branch about as big around as my finger," he said. "I think I broke it off. They won't have to worry about it tomorrow."

This led to Powell's first bogey of the tournament. He nearly regained the shot on No. 18, but a birdie putt of perhaps 30 feet stopped an inch from the hole. Powell expressed his frustration by reversing his visor on his head. Otherwise, he was tranquility personified. "I think the Senior Tour is one of the best things that ever happened to golf," he said. "It gives a lot of the old people some hope."