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Senior Women's Tour looking to expand

Patty Sheehan smiles with satisfaction when she thinks about the $450,000 purse at this weekend's Hy-Vee Classic for seniors.

Sheehan is old enough to remember how it used to be in women's golf.

"When I first came out on the tour, a big purse was $150,000 and that was in 1980, 1981," Sheehan said. "The players that played before me never saw $450,000 in a whole year."

Nor did they earn first-place checks like the $75,000 that will be awarded the winner of the 36-hole Hy-Vee tournament on Saturday and Sunday.

But with the emergence of the Women's Senior Golf Tour, players like Kathy Whitworth, Jane Blalock and Hollis Stacy, stars of the LPGA Tour before the big paydays came along, now have a chance to cash in.

And just as important, a chance to keep playing and remain competitive.

"It gives people who have never seen them play an opportunity to watch the truly greats in the game of golf," Sheehan said. "Like Whitworth. She walks through the door and I get goose bumps. I always thought she was one of the two or three best players in the world."

Whitworth, 61, who has won a record 88 LPGA tournaments, will be among the 40 pros playing in this weekend's tournament. So will Stacy, Blalock, Jan Stephenson, Amy Alcott and Sandra Haynie.

Stephenson, the defending champion, and Blalock are two of the major forces behind the tour for golfers 43 and over, which is still in its infancy and has just three events this year. The others are in Green Bay, Wis., and Boston. They hope to double the number in each of the next two years.

"I think the women and men can still learn a tremendous amount from watching us play," Stephenson said. "We love to play, we can really entertain and we love people.

"We're not trying to get 30 events, just a summer tour, 10 or 12 events."

Twenty-five golfers, including Nancy Lopez, put in money to help get the senior tour started. Blalock, Stephenson, Stacy, Sally Little and Jane Crafter are the managing members.

"We're very tenacious. We have a passion," Blalock said. "It's so unusual in sports when you've got the players who are doing the marketing. There's a lot of credibility in that."

To succeed, the seniors need cooperation from the LPGA. Now, the seniors are allowed only dates that don't conflict with regular tournaments or are opposite limited field tournaments.

"Our goal is to play whenever we want," Stacy said. "I think we'll get it. Jane's been great at dealing with the LGPA."

Blalock said she hoped an agreement could be reached by the end of June. Sheehan said the LGPA should want to promote a senior tour.

"It's a total win-win situation for both of us because it keeps the players' names that people know out there and still available and still recognizable," Sheehan said. "They're still playing golf and it can only do the LPGA good."

The men's Senior Tour is keeping golfers like Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Ray Floyd in front of the public. It also has given lesser-knowns like Ed Dougherty and Bruce Fleisher a chance to shine. Golfers who spent their lives as club pros now are playing in big-time Senior tournaments.

Blalock thinks a women's senior tour can do the same.

"At our age, the opportunities in golf weren't as great, so there are many good golfers who didn't choose this course," Blalock said. "Now their kids are in college or older and this is a dream they've had. Maybe they'll be able to follow a dream they abandoned a long time ago."


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