Philadelphia, PA – The 2011 Champions Tour season began in January of 2011. By May, the eventual Player of the Year was already done winning.
Luckily, his three victories were enough to win the money title and the Charles Schwab Cup. Must be nice to have things sewed up before Memorial Day.
Parity would be a word to describe this season on the elder circuit.
No fewer than 17 men won official Champions Tour individual titles. Yes, some fellas captured multiple victories, but there was no breakout season as years past.
Although, it certainly looked like a breakout season was upon us early.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Tom Lehman
The 1996 British Open champion finished second in the season-opener at Hualalai, then went on a bit of a mini-tear.
Lehman won the Allianz Championship by a stroke two weeks after the runner-up in Hawaii. The Champions Tour went on hiatus and Lehman came back to capture the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic by four shots.
After only two more events spanned the next month, Lehman returned to the winner's circle at the first Champions Tour major, the Tradition.
He captured the Senior PGA Championship the year before, so Lehman was battle- tested at the biggest stage in over-50 golf. He finished regulation in Birmingham tied with Peter Senior and the two played two extra holes before Lehman's par the second time around 18 was enough for the victory.
So here's Lehman with three victories in the first eight Champions Tour events. It seemed like a formality that Lehman would walk away with a lot of hardware, but that stalled a bit.
Lehman posted only two top 10s in his next six starts. When the calendar hit August, Lehman tied for second at the 3M Championship and took fourth in his title defense at the Senior Players.
Lehman's lead in both the Charles Schwab Cup and money race were dwindling. He took fifth in Korea, then posted a pair of top-four finishes in the final two full-field events.
With the Charles Schwab Cup Championship the only tournament left, Lehman had the inside track to the year-long title and the $1 million annuity. Mark Calcavecchia had a great chance to trip up Lehman in the end when Lehman only managed a tie for 18th at Harding Park.
When Calcavecchia tied for second with Jay Haas, Michael Allen and Loren Roberts, the double-points awarded were split among too many people and Lehman held on for the Charles Schwab Cup. He won by only 74 points in the end, but a win is a win.
"Looked like Calc had a great chance of doing it, of taking it all in one fell swoop at the end," Lehman said. "He played great. Really, really impressed with the way he played and the way he battled."
Lehman battled, too. After his final trip to the winner's circle, Lehman posted seven top 10s for a grand total of 12 on the year.
He also led the Champions Tour in greens in regulation and total driving, second in scoring average and eighth in distance.
Lehman also made four out of five cuts on the PGA Tour in 2011, including a top-25 at the British Open.
Couple that consistency and a money title, and Lehman was the Champions Tour's best in 2011.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - Senior Players Championship
"It took 19 years, a two-hour weather delay, a back procedure performed in Germany, a tornado warning, endless questions about Tiger Woods and a three- hole playoff for Fred Couples to finally get his second major championship."
That about summed up the year's final major championship and its winner, Fred Couples.
The man with the constantly ailing back went to Germany for a procedure that he needed clearance from the PGA Tour just to receive. Couples said it worked, but his back looked bad by the end of the playoff.
With bad weather forecast for Sunday, the final-round tee times were moved up to the morning, but a storm still caused a nearly two-hour weather delay. When Couples and John Cook finally finished, a tornado warning was in effect in Westchester county.
So Couples finally captured the title in the playoff over his buddy. It was his first major since his only one on the PGA Tour, the 1992 Masters.
And to top it off, Couples spent the week and the post-victory presser talking about his decision to peg Tiger Woods for his Presidents Cup team. Self- inflicted grilling with his call to name him six weeks early, Couples' choice was validated when Woods clinched the Cup for the U.S.
(And all wasn't lost for Cook on the Presidents Cup front. When assistant captain Michael Jordan had to step down to deal with some sort of labor problem in the NBA, Couples added Cook to his staff.)
SHOT OF THE YEAR - "The four-whack"
It's hard to bestow such an honor on an event that was won by two strokes, but Mark Calcavecchia handed Russ Cochran a huge advantage at the Senior British Open.
Down by two strokes on Sunday, after a piece of the third-round lead, Calc was playing solid golf. He was behind Russ Cochran on the leaderboard, but Calcavecchia, a great British Open player who hoisted the claret jug in 1989, knocked his approach inside 10 feet at the ninth.
Calcavecchia proceeded to four-putt from just shy of 10 feet. The double-bogey left him four back and Cochran easily cruised into the winner's circle at Walton Heath.
"The four-whack on the ninth hole, those usually hurt you," Calcavecchia joked in a television interview. "The greens are tough here, but that was all my fault. I pulled both those little, short putts. That happens every now and then, but overall I played really good."
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - John Huston
It took only three starts for Mr. Houston to emerge victorious on the Champions Tour. He won the Dick's Sporting Goods Open by three shots at En- Joie Golf Club.
Huston posted a pair of top-16s to start his career on the elder circuit, then visited the winner's circle. After a so-so finish at the Senior British Open, Huston rattled off three straight top-10s, including a tie for ninth at the U.S. Senior Open.
He shared second at the SAS Championship and didn't finish worse than 16th in the last four events of the year.
Huston came in 17th on the money list and that's not shabby in about half a season.
Cook - Along with Lehman, the only other player to win three times on the Champions Tour in 2011. Finished third on the money list and fifth on the year-long Charles Schwab Cup race.
Peter Senior - With an appropriate name for the tour, Senior came in third on the Schwab Cup battle and seventh on the money list despite no victories in 2011.
Jay Don Blake - After a 20-year winless drought, Blake won in Korea, then took the year-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Fourth on both the Schwab Cup and money list.
Olin Browne - Won the big event on the schedule, the U.S. Senior Open.
Tom Watson - At 61, Watson became the second-oldest Senior PGA Championship winner.
Kenny Perry - Finally broke into the winner's circle at the SAS Championship and accomplished the feat after finding out his sister passed away on Saturday night.
Loren Roberts - Failed to win for the first time since joining the Champions Tour in 2005.
Bernhard Langer - Last year's Player of the Year missed significant time with a thumb injury. Did win once, but was a distant 24th in the Charles Schwab Cup race.
Tommy Armour III - After a rookie year in 2010 that saw Armour record three runner-ups, Armour notched only four top 10s in 22 starts in 2011.