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2015 Launches First Full Year on Champions Tour for Kendall

Skip Kendall

Article Published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. November 6th, 2014. Written by Gary D’Amato

When Skip Kendall made his Champions Tour debut in September and birdied the first hole he played, he was surprised by the reaction from playing partners Billy Andrade and Tom Purtzer.

They celebrated by giving him high-fives.

“I got to the second tee and I was like, ‘I don’t think I’ve been high-fived by my playing partners in 10 years,'” Kendall said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool.'”

It was his first indication that things were going to be a little different on the Champions Tour than they were on the PGA and Web.com tours.

“The atmosphere is just so nice out there,” said Kendall, a Fox Point native who turned 50 on Sept. 9. “Everyone is in a good mood. There’s not as much stress. It’s kind of like icing on the cake for guys’ careers. A lot of guys are having fun.”

Kendall made a combined 658 starts on the PGA and Web.com tours but wasn’t exempt for the Champions Tour when he turned 50 because he never won on the PGA Tour and didn’t rank high enough on the career money list.

Still, he got to tee it up in five events in September and October, thanks to three sponsor exemptions and a pair of top-10 finishes.

Kendall nearly won in his second start, tying for third in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach on Sept. 28. Three weeks later, he tied for sixth at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic.

He earned $206,658 in those five starts to finish 63rd on the money list. It was more money than he’d earned in his previous two years combined, and his check for $124,925 at Pebble Beach was his biggest in more than 4½ years.

But he needed to win or finish in the top 30 on the money list to be exempt for 2015, so he’ll have to go to the Champions Tour Qualifying Tournament, Nov. 17-22, in Winter Garden, Fla., where he’ll try to earn one of five exemptions.

If Kendall falls short at “Q School,” he still will be a rookie coming off a strong fall, with a long career behind him and a history of treating sponsors and fans the right way. He’ll get opportunities to play and is confident he can perform well enough to earn full-time status.

One thing is certain: Kendall is done trying to compete with kids half his age on the developmental Web.com Tour. He made 18 starts this year, missed the cut in half of them and never finished higher than 35th.

“Web.com is tough,” he said. “It’s a grind. It’s for young guys that are trying to get to the PGA Tour. I am glad that I played it over the last few years to get me ready for (the Champions Tour). It was a great tour to play because I stayed competitive. It helped me immensely.”

After struggling to compete with players who bombed it 40 yards past him off the tee, Kendall couldn’t wait to turn 50.

“People would say, “You’re turning 50 pretty soon, aren’t you?'” he said. “I would say, ‘Yeah, 32 days. Not that I’m counting.'”

In his first few events on the Champions Tour, he discovered that the vibe was laid-back and the players congenial. Most of them spent decades chasing victories, major championships, Ryder Cup teams and endorsements and earned small fortunes along the way. They’ve got nothing left to prove.

“It’s an entertainment tour, we all realize that,” Kendall said. “There’s a lot more interaction with the fans. We realize the sponsors and fans are No. 1. Everyone still wants to win. Everyone’s got that fire but at the same time, you can have fun.”

Kendall said it’s a misperception that the courses are set up much easier on the Champions Tour than they are on the PGA Tour.

“The setups on the Champions Tour, the five events that I played, were much more difficult than I expected,” he said. “The courses weren’t as short as I expected, the pin placements weren’t as easy as I expected and the conditions were tough.

“At Pebble, there was no difference in the set up to the AT&T (Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), which I played for many years. Zero difference. Same tees, a lot of the same pin placements.”

Appleton native J.P. Hayes, who hasn’t played in a tour event in 2½ years, turns 50 on Aug. 2, 2015. Madison golfers Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker turn 50 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Could we see a “cheesehead reunion” on the Champions Tour in a couple years?

“That would be nice,” Kendall said. “J.P. and I have been texting a little bit back and forth. He won twice so he would be eligible. I hope he does play, but he hasn’t given me any indication one way or the other.

“I can definitely see Jerry playing. I don’t know about ‘Strick.'”

Stricker has cut back on his PGA Tour schedule in recent years and some doubt whether he’ll play much on the Champions Tour.

“A lot of guys have said, ‘My career is over,'” Kendall said. “And then once they come out and play a few tournaments on the Champions Tour they’re like, ‘You know what? This is a lot of fun.'”

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