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The hard way onto Senior PGA

Jay Overton has to prove he has game each week by qualifying on Mondays.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

NAPLES -- The system is not set up in his favor, even though an honest assessment by those in the locker room would reveal that Jay Overton easily could be among them, playing week after week for the big paydays on the Senior PGA Tour.

But Overton, 51, the former director of golf at Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, must take the treacherous, almost impossible path to senior golf. Because he is not an exempt player, he must try to qualify on Mondays.

Overton qualified last week at the ACE Group Classic, where he shot 68 Saturday at TwinEagles Golf Club and was tied for 12th, seven behind Tom Watson (66-130).

Unless he wins a tournament, there is no way into regular senior events short of Monday qualifying or a sponsor's exemption.

"I made a choice a long time ago to be a club professional," said Overton, who worked at Innisbrook for more than 20 years and also was a club pro at Pinehurst Resort. "I could be mad at the system, but I'm an outsider. Yeah, I proved I could play. But if I were just allowed to go out and play, I wouldn't have the same respect to be out here on a day-to-day basis with these guys. Now these guys, the Larry Nelsons and Raymond Floyds, they know who I am. They know what I can do.

"This is a situation where I want to earn my way out here. I don't have any issues with the rules." The senior tour was established to reward name players from the PGA Tour. All-time money earned is one of the exemption criteria, along with how a player fared the previous year on tour. Eight fully-exempt spots are available each fall at the tour's qualifying tournament, but Overton failed to earn one the past two years.

And unlike the regular tour, which rewards top-10 finishers who are not otherwise exempt with a spot the next week, the senior tour affords no such perks.

For last weekend's Royal Caribbean Classic, Overton led after the first round and eventually tied for fifth. On Monday he qualified for the ACE Group Classic by finishing birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to shoot 66. He'll be at Fox Hollow Golf Club in New Port Richey on Monday, trying to earn a spot in the Verizon Classic Friday-Sunday. Typically, 140 or more players compete for three or four spots in the field. Even for an accomplished player, the odds are long.

"I'd love to have one of those Vegas oddsmakers put odds on a guy going through Mondays and making it out here," said former club pro Dana Quigley, who at 68 trailed Watson by three. "It can't be very good. It's not anything I would wish on my worst enemy. Monday is impossible."

Quigley is one of the few who have done it. He won the Northville Long Island Classic in 1997 after qualifying Monday. He has been exempt since.

Despite getting into just seven tournaments last year, Overton earned $173,800 to rank 72nd on the money list. That was better than Lanny Wadkins, who played in 18 tournaments, and just behind Lee Trevino, who played in 17.

Overton made $63,800 last week and probably needs to earn about $350,000 this season to finish among the top 50. That would give him partial exempt status next season. A top 31 finish means a full exemption.

But the key is getting into enough events. Overton has qualified for the Senior PGA Championship and the Ford Senior Championship, but without a victory or the generosity of sponsors, Mondays will be big days.

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