AVONDALE, Pa. -- With the escalation of PGA Senior Tour purses in the 1990s, it's amazing what turning 50 has done to professional golfers.
Two cases in point were near the top of the leader board after the first round of the annual Bell Atlantic Classic at Hartefeld National yesterday. Jack Lewis, who turned 50 last June, turned down a three-year contract to continue as golf coach at Wake Forest, his alma mater, to take his tour chances.
On May 9, John Mahaffey, backed by new physical and mental conditioning, woke up, and his first thought was he was now a Senior golfer.
One shot off the lead, Lewis was in a group of five at 3-under-par 69, and Mahaffey was one of four at 70.
This rural Chester County area, not far from the Maryland line, has become the new home for this event after 13 years in the Philadelphia suburbs.
The site may be new, but a co-leader is a familiar one for this tournament. Dale Douglass is a two-time winner, both in playoffs, and he began here with 68, a number matched by last week's winner, Larry Ziegler. Douglass birdied the first two holes and, but for some errant putting, would have opened daylight on the field.
"You can't run off and hide, but I had a chance to disappear," he said. "I appreciate the 68, but I missed some putts badly coming in."
Ziegler, who was 4 under through 12, and parred in, said he was still in a daze from winning.
"It was quite a surprise because last fall I was so low, I'd get up, ask my wife to look out the window, and pray it was raining.
"My son is a pro in Orlando, and when he said I looked pathetic, it got me going. He has worked with me and it was about three weeks ago when things started getting better. Last week, I went out and relaxed, but never expected to do what I did."
Lewis is a non-exempt player who made it here by tying for second (69) in a qualifier, said: "The pressure now is the same as it was when I was chasing those Monday qualifiers on the regular tour in the 1970s. You want to get where you are exempt, so, obviously, the whole key is playing well.
"It's a mental battle, and that's what I'm here for." He had qualified for this spring's PGA Seniors (tied for 16th) as a club pro last fall, but this is his first start in a regular tour tournament.
Not only did Mahaffey, a 10-time winner on the regular tour, qualify for the Senior tour on his birthday (past winner of a PGA Tour event), but he also seemingly underwent an attitude transplant at the same time.
"Absolutely," said the former NCAA champion from Houston, who went on to a 25-year tour career that included the 1978 PGA Championship, but did not include subscribing to the philosophies of Will Rogers and Dale Carnegie.
"By and large, this is where I belong, because I can't play with the youngsters," he said. "The last five-six years were not good.
"I took some time off, worked on my short game and worked on my conditioning. Heck, if I'd done this before, I would have been a lot more competitive."
Pub Date: 5/23/98