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Another bad Monday for Overton

The former Westin Innisbrook Resort pro, without a senior tour card, misses qualifying for his 3rd straight tournament.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Jay Overton tries to help a putt during qualifying for the Verizon Classic.
NEW PORT RICHEY -- The cast of characters includes all walks of professional golf life. There are the Senior PGA Tour players without an exemption and the club pros with game. There are the dreamers, too, golfers from every conceivable background, hoping to find some magic.

Frankly, Jay Overton didn't expect to be part of this crowd. The longtime area club pro, who gave up his prestigious job at the Westin Innisbrook Resort last summer so he could prepare for the Senior PGA Tour, failed to earn his card at last fall's qualifying tournament.

Now if he wants to play in any senior event, he must qualify on Monday. And it's not easy gaining one of the four spots when 144 players are trying for them.

"It's totally different for a guy like me," said Overton, who failed to gain a place in this week's Verizon Classic field in a qualifier at Fox Hollow Golf Club on Monday. "My golf style is a little bit of a plodder until something good happens. You get 18 holes, one shot, 4 1/2 hours, and you have to make as many birdies as you can.

"It's a whole different psyche, and one not a lot of guys adapt to. It's hard to turn it on and off. I'm not making any excuses. It's hard to time your good rounds on Mondays."

Overton's 1-over 72 on Monday was four shots too high. For the third straight week he went to a Monday qualifier attempting to secure a spot in a Florida senior event and didn't go low enough.

All this was made necessary when Overton played poorly at the senior tour qualifying tournament in November at Disney World. Having breezed through the first stage of qualifying, even winning his regional, Overton felt confident of securing his card.

The top eight players in the field earn full playing privileges for the following year, with the next eight given a conditional exemption. Surely, Overton figured, he would be in the top 16. But Overton didn't even make the cut.

"I wish I knew what happened," Overton said. "There were no injuries, no excuses ... other than maybe I wasn't prepared for anything to go wrong. It went wrong early. The first day, I birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 71. I had played horribly for the better part of two hours. I guess mentally I wasn't prepared for that. And I couldn't get over it. I should have put that behind me.

"There was a little bit more pressure than I probably thought -- most self-imposed pressure. Shooting 10 or 11 under (to qualify) was certainly within range. ... It was a tough week. It was a dose of reality."

Terry Mauney knows the feeling. He was in a similar situation -- a former tour pro-turned sportscaster-turned club pro who gave up his job three years ago to prepare for the senior tour.

Mauney made it through qualifying by shooting rounds of 72-67-67-70 at Eagle Pines Golf Club, tying for second. While Overton had to endure qualifying Monday, Mauney relaxed, knowing his place in the Verizon Classic was secure.

"That school, the quality of players was so good, the golf course so difficult," Mauney said. "That was the most nerve-racking four rounds of golf I've played any time I've ever played golf. If I can get through that and shoot 12 under par, I should be able to handle the pressure of playing out here in these tournaments.

"That made my whole year. What was I going to do for a whole year?"

That is the situation Overton faces, although he did not completely sever his ties to Innisbrook. He still is heavily involved at the Troon Golf Institute, where he is an instructor. That allows him the opportunity to play in qualifiers, PGA sectional events, the Tony Jacklin Senior Tour and other tournaments to try to keep his game sharp.

And there still is plenty of time for Overton, 50, who looked at the senior tour as a minimum two-year commitment.

"I would never, ever be the kind of guy who would prepare for failure," said Overton, who has won numerous club pro titles, played in 14 major championships and qualified for the PGA Tour in the early 1990s. "It's not egotistical. It's just not my nature. This was a setback, yes. Was it a shock? No. It's still a golf tournament. In this case, I lost. I played badly. I never had a chance.

"You can play well, and at the end of the day you might be 18th. I wasn't prepared to lose, so that was a bit of a setback. It took several days to sink in. It was like, "Don't I get to play one more day? I know I can play better than this.' "

The reality of senior golf is it is a closed shop, geared toward those who had success on the regular PGA Tour. With only eight fully exempt spots available each year at qualifying school, and with hundreds of players competing for them, it is a difficult process.

"I think it's set up for the strong to survive, more so than ever," Overton said. "It's their league, their ball, their bat. That's fine. I'm not one who moans and groans about it. If I can make it and get in there, that's fine.

"I do know what I'm going to do the remainder of this year and then next year. Then I'll be 52. And quite frankly, if I haven't been successful by then, I'll be a charter boat captain or doing a lot of golf schools."

NOTES: Doug Johnson led qualifying at Fox Hollow with 4-under 67. Fritz Gambetta, Jim Holtgrieve and Steve Stull shot 68, and each birdied the first playoff hole to gain the final three spots in the 78-player field. Bobby Cole, who also shot 68, parred the first playoff hole and is an alternate.

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