The conclusion of the PGA Tour Champions lengthy, some would say tiring, wraparound season begins when the first tee shots of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic at the Country Club of Virginia’s James River course are struck on Friday.
The DECC is back in its position as the first event of the three-tournament playoff series that determines the senior tour’s Schwab Cup champion, a prized and lucrative end-of-the-season honor.
No Schwab Cup champion was crowned in 2020. Because of COVID uncertainty, issues and protocols, PGA Tour Champions officials decided to combine the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The 50-year-old and above set has had the opportunity to play in 36 tournaments the past 18 months. The top 72 players qualified for the playoffs, but the DECC field consists of 65 players. Fifty-four advance to the Timbertech Championship in Boca Raton, Fla., in two weeks.
Phil Mickelson is the defending DECC champion. The tournament was played as a regular-season event last year. Bernhard Langer, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Woody Austin are past champions. Langer, who has won five Schwab Cups, ranks No. 1 in the Schwab Cup standings. Three-time Tour winner Jim Furyk is ranked No. 2.
Eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame are in the field: Mickelson, Langer, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Davis Love III, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Vijay Singh.
The 65 players have combined to win 520 PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions victories; 15 own a PGA Tour major title; 19 have won a PGA Tour Champions major.
Eleven rookies have combined to win 17 tournaments, and the 13 first-time winners are a single-season mark for the Champions Tour.
Alex Cejka is one of the rookie winners. He turned 50 in December 2020 and had limited status on the PGA Tour starting the 2021 calendar year. He played some PGA and Korn Ferry tournaments the year before he became eligible for the 50s age group to stay sharp.
“My goal was to play the next three, four, five years [on PGA Tour Champions]. My goal was somehow this year get full-time status. It didn’t matter if I make the Mondays [qualifiers], make enough money in a tournament to keep the status or winning a tournament,” said Cejka, who fled what is now the Czech Republic as a 9-year-old refugee. He has settled in Germany.
Cejka finished second in his second tournament after gaining entry in a Monday qualifier.
“That gave me a lot of confidence that I can play good out here,” he said.
His third start was the season’s first major, the Regions Tradition. The weekend before the tournament Cejka was the 11th alternate. He gained entry as first alternate and went on to win, defeating Steve Stricker in a one-hole playoff.
“Going into the first major with great confidence and a great game and winning totally took a lot of pressure off me cause you know now you’re going to have certain status for three years,” Cejka said. “That was basically the turning point for me, for my head, for my game that I know I belong now out here.”
A couple of weeks later in his fifth start, Cejka won another major, the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes.
What he liked was how he played and how he handled beating “a lot of great players. This tour is so many former great champions, Hall of Fame, major champions and they can still play.”
Cejka is happy where he is, but “for me it’s been a little bit of an exhausting year because you really try even harder. I must say I’m really tired, too, and I’m really glad the season is almost over. No matter now what would happen even if I finish here last, Boca (Raton) last, Scottsdale dead last, it would still be a great and a miracle season in my eyes.”
Dicky Pride’s first PGA Tour Champions victory in May made him the 18th player to log victories on the PGA Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Champions.
“It was a goal to win on all three tours,” Pride said. “It’s something I really wanted to do. It was a goal in my head and I had it written down and I knew I wanted to do it. It sure was nice when it showed up.”
Pride says he’s tired from the long season, but “to win out here is really an accomplishment. You really got to be on top of your game. It’s a lot of work.”
Mechanicsville High sophomore Meg Lavinder had the shot of the day during Wednesday’s session of the Tom Farrell Memorial Pro-Am. She scored her first hole-in-one on the 125-yard 17th hole. Lavinder will compete in the Virginia High School League Girls Open at Heritage Oaks Golf Club in Harrisonburg on Monday.
Friday’s tee times
10:40 a.m.: Shane Bertsch, Kirk Triplett, Lee Janzen; 10:51: Vijay Singh, Gene Sauers, Kenny Perry
11:02: Dicky Pride, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Goydos; 11:13: Phil Mickelson, Wes Short Jr., Glen Day; 11:24: Stephen Ames, Paul Broadhurst, Brandt Jobe; 11:35: Tim Petrovic, K.J. Choi, Brett Quigley; 11:46: Robert Karlsson, David Toms, Steve Flesch; 11:57: Scott Parel, Woody Austin, Doug Barron
12:08 p.m.: Darren Clarke, Alex Cejka, Rod Pampling; 12:19: Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir; 12:30: Bernhard Langer, Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jiménez
10:45 a.m.: Rocco Mediate, Marco Dawson, Cameron Beckman; 10:56: Joe Durant, Tim Herron, Jeff Maggert
11:07: Stephen Leaney, Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade; 11:18: Tom Lehman, Ken Tanigawa, Scott Dunlap; 11:29: Kent Jones, David McKenzie, Bob Estes; 11:40: Tom Byrum, Ken Duke, Steven Alker; 11:51: Jay Haas, John Daly, Duffy Waldorf
12:02 p.m. Stephen Dodd, Chris DiMarco, Tom Gillis; 12:13: Paul Stankowski, Willie Wood, Jeff Sluman; 12:24: Tom Pernice Jr., Matt Gogel, José María Olazábal; 12:35: Davis Love, Thongchai Jaidee