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Gorman: Legends, not leader, top draws at Senior Players

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 10:48 p.m.

As one of golf's greats walked onto the No. 6 green, Gene Kleinosky leaned over and whispered a history lesson to 15-year-old junior golfer Greg Heider.

“There's Tom Watson,” he said, “one of the legends.”

This was why they drove two hours Saturday from Johnstown to Fox Chapel Golf Course, to see legends at the Constellation Senior Players Championship.

They stood at the seventh tee, watching in awe as Watson, Tom Kite and Nick Price played in succession. That's three members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, with a combined 76 PGA Tour victories and a dozen majors.

“I remember watching these guys in all their major championships,” Kleinosky said. “I've seen them in their heyday.”

For Kleinosky, greenskeeper at Berkley Hills Golf Course, seeing Watson led to reminiscing about some of his greatest golf memories.

“I can still remember watching on TV, him hitting the shot to beat Jack Nicklaus (in the 1982 U.S. Open) at Pebble Beach,” Kleinosky said. “He's the biggest name in this tournament.”

That's what is both majestic and melancholy about the senior circuit. We get to watch the legends, though they are in their twilight and no longer its scoring leaders.

Make no mistake, however: The legends, not the leaders, are the draw to this event.

“They are the Champions Tour,” said Kenny Perry, who shot back-to-back 63s for second place, two strokes behind Fred Couples. “They carry this tour for us. They're icons. They're Hall of Famers. They're what people want to come see. That's who I want to come see.”

Perry added Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw to the group of “guys I looked up to when I was learning how to play, who I was trying to aspire to be like.”

That's why Kleinosky told the young Heider to watch their mannerisms, everything from how they grip their clubs and set up their shots to how they conduct themselves on the course. The golfers were all business.

“Right now, you can't tell if Nick Price is 7-over or 18-under,” Kleinosky said, laughing when he saw the standard showing Price at 7-over. “There's no kicking bags or throwing clubs.”

Watson, 63, joked that golfers his age always have a few injuries they could complain about. Instead, he gripes about his memory. He still remembers the holes, even when he plays a round he wishes he could forget.

“To win out here,” he said, “you have to play really good golf.”

Dennis Kelly was impressed after watching Watson birdie the par-4, 450-yard No. 9 to finish 1-over 71.

“Watson is still playing at a terrifically high level,” said Kelly, 50, of O'Hara.

At 2-over 212, Watson is no longer in contention. He's 17 strokes behind Couples, who now draws bigger galleries.

But not more fervent fans.

“I'd rather watch these guys than Couples and the leaders,” Kleinosky said. “Let's face facts: They've got nowhere near the wins.”

Where Watson has 39 victories, including eight majors, on the PGA Tour, Couples has 15 victories and one major. Watson complimented Couples, calling the courses pitch-and-putt for him.

“He's in a different world, Freddy,” Watson said.

A world where this Senior Players might belong to Couples, but Watson is still the Champions Tour star.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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