Three years ago, Fred Couples won the Champions Tour’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at picturesque Fallen Oak in Biloxi, and two weeks later led The Masters after two rounds.
Couples, who has made the cut in 20 consecutive Masters, has finished no lower than 20th in his last five visits to Augusta. Obviously, at age 56, Freddie can still play. He will return to play in the Gulf Resort Classic presented by C Spire this weekend.
Couples, whose silky, powerful golf swing is the envy of millions, serves as just one example of how these over-50 players can still compete.
Here’s another: Miguel Angel Jimenez, who will join Couples in Biloxi this week, finished fourth in The Masters last year and won two of his first three starts on the Champions Tour. Jimenez, the pony-tailed one famously known as the world’s most interesting golfer, seems at his best on the most challenging golf courses. Fallen Oak, the formidable, Tom Fazio-designed beauty, certainly qualifies in that regard.
The Gulf Resorts field includes five former Masters winners: Craig Stadler (1982), Larry Mize (’87), Sandy Lyle (’88), Couples (’92) and Mark O’Meara (’98).
Indeed, the field at Fallen Oak will include some of the most accomplished men in the sport, including:
- Hale Irwin, who won three U.S. Opens, two Senior Opens, 20 PGA Tour tournaments and a record 45 Champions Tour titles.
- Colin Montgomerie, who has won 47 times as a professional, including two senior major championships.
- Nick Price, who claims one British Open and two PGA Championships among his 50 professional victories.
- Mark Calcavecchia, who has won 30 times as a pro, including the British Open.
- Tom Kite, who has won 38 times as a pro, including a U.S. Open.
- Tom Lehman, who has won 34 professional championships, including one British Open and three Champions Tour majors.
- O’Meara, Tiger Woods’ buddy, who has won 34 pro tournaments, including a Masters, a British Open and one Champions Tour major.
- Curtis Strange, whose 28 professional victories include two U.S. Opens.
Greenwood’s Jim Gallagher, the former U.S. Ryder Cup hero, also will play at Fallen Oak, which he calls “one of the toughest, most challenging courses we play on the Champions Tour.”
“Fallen Oak definitely favors the guys who play tough courses well,” Gallagher says. “It’s a long, demanding course that demands the golfer to hit a lot of quality iron shots.
“You have to really be hitting the ball well to play well at Fallen Oak. It’s not a course where you can just scrape it around.”
Fallen Oak can stretch out to nearly 7,500 yards, as long as most courses on the regular tour and as long as most courses used for majors.
My pick: Jimenez, the Spaniard, has played well on the European Tour this season and also has won his only Champions Tour start. He usually plays the more difficult courses extremely well.
The 54-hole championship will be played Friday through Sunday. There will be a qualifying tournament at Diamondhead Country Club and a pro-am event at Grand Bear on Tuesday, the MGCR Pro-am at Fallen Oak on Wednesday and the C Spire Pro-am at Fallen Oak on Thursday.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.