NAPLES, FL. – The traditional warmup in Hawaii is over. Now PGA Tour Champions is ready to get down to business. With the tournament rounds scheduled for Feb. 18-20, the Chubb Classic Presented by SERVOPRO is the first full-field event of the season for the 50-and-over circuit.
“A great place for it,’’ said Peter Jacobsen, who played in the tournament last year and will be on Golf Channel’s broadcasting crew for this one.
Oh yes, he’s also a member at Tiberon, the host club that first welcomed the Chubb in 2021.
PGA Tour Champions made its traditional season debut at the Mitsubishi Championship, but only winners of tournaments from the previous year can play in that one.
“It’s the crown jewel because everyone wants to play there,’’ said Jacobsen, “but all the players are excited to get out and get their year started. Last year was a weird one with Covid.’’
Indeed it was. Last year’s Chubb was moved to April and was one of the many events on all the golf tours that was played without fans in attendance. The fans will be very evident at Tiberon this year, and not just because the tournament won’t be dealing as much with pandemic issues.
The Chubb is always a special event. It’s become a Florida tradition and this year’s playing marks the tournament’s 35th anniversary. It’s the longest-running Champions Tour event in the same marketplace. The Champions circuit started in 1980, and the Chubb made its debut just eight years later. It’s produced plenty of golf excitement ever since.
So, let’s get down to business. Here’s what golf fans need to know in the waning days before the first tee shot is struck on Tiburon’s Black Course.
WHAT’S NEW: The tourney has a new executive director, but this won’t be Sandy Diamond’s first rodeo. He worked at the tournament 20 years ago, then spent a long career with the PGA Tour before hooking on with the First Tee of Metropolitan New York as its chief development officer.
When the Chubb position opened up Diamond was excited to take it and promptly moved to Naples to oversee management of the tournament.
“My background has been more on the development side – sponsorship, marketing – and not on the operational side,’’ said Diamond, but he’s off to a flying start. He’s lined up full fields for morning and afternoon pro-ams on both Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week. There’s a $14,000 fee to get a foursome into the field in those, and Diamond had 56 teams lined up two weeks before the tournament.
“And there’s no freebies,’’ said Diamond.
There may also be another pro-am on Tiberon’s sister Gold Course on Tuesday of tournament week, based on demand.
WHAT ABOUT TIBURON? It’s the only facility to host events on the PGA and LPGA tours as well as PGA Tour Champions in a one-year period. The club has taken on that demanding task in a four-month period. The LPGA’s CME Championship, which included the 2021 season, was held in November and was the biggest money event in women’s golf. The QBE Shootout, held in December, brought in an array of PGA Tour stars and now it’s PGA Tour Champions’ turn.
The Chubb is the only event of the big three held on Tiburon’s Black Course. The other two were held on the Gold. Both courses were designed by Greg Norman.
WHO’S DEFENDING? Unfortunately, probably nobody. Steve Stricker was a one-stroke winner over Robert Karlsson and Alex Cejka last year. It was the 54-year old’s sixth victory on the Champions circuit, and he followed up with an even more high-profile accomplishment when he captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to a record 19-9 whomping of Europe at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits course in September.
Unfortunately Stricker was hit with a severe illness – described as an inflammation around his heart — in late November and his participation in the Chubb is doubtful, though reports suggest he has been making big strides in his recovery.
“I don’t think he’ll be here, and that stinks,’’ said Diamond. “It’d take a minor mira
WHO WILL BE HERE? Diamond had only a handful of early commitments, but they were some good ones – Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Bernhard Langer. David Duval, a former major champion, is also coming. He made his Champions debut in the Mitsubishi event, finishing in a tie for 34th, and the Chubb will be Duval’s first in a full-field competition. He was the 2001 British Open champion and a former world No. 1.
Later player commitments included Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam, Billy Andrade, Brad Faxon and Dudley Hart. Sponsor exemptions were awarded to Michael Balliet, head pro at nearby Calusa Pines, and amateur Michael Muehr.
There’ll be 78 players in the field, and Diamond promised “The field will be extremely strong.’’
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: The first Chubb first champion was Gary Player at The Club at Pelican Bay, the site for the first three years of the tournament. Other Naples area courses took their shot at hosting – Vineyards, Lely, Bay Colony, Pelican Marsh, TwinEagles, Quail Creek, TP Treviso Bay and The Quarry – before Tiburon joined the mix.
When Player won the purse was only $300,000. Now it’s $1.6 million. Lee Trevino was the first back-to-back winner (1990-91) and Mike Hill also accomplished the feat in 1993-94.
Langer is the only three-time winner (2011, 2013 and 2016).
BEST STORY LINES: Langer, who lives just a couple hours away, in Boca Raton, is always a good one. Now 64, this guy can still play and will continue to chase Hale Irwin’s record 45 Champions wins at least for another year. Langer has won 41 Champions titles and captured the Charles Schwab Cup six times, the last win coming last year.
Miguel Angel Jimenez got off to a great start in Hawaii when he won the Mitsubishi event for the third time, this time in a playoff with Steven Alker. Alker was the surprise of last season and will be well-watched if he keeps his success run going.
And who know what to expect from David Duval?
BEST VIEWING HOLES: Jacobsen, who has lived in Naples and been a Tiburon member for 18 years, believes the key holes will be Nos. 2 and 18.
“The second is tight and long, a difficult par,’’ said Jacobsen. “It’s extremely difficult and tests your driving right off the bat. The last hole is a reachable par-5. A player will have the opportunity to make eagle and win the tournament there.’’
“Overall, the Black Course is a good design,’’ said Jacobsen. “It’s not overly difficult or very long (6,949 yards from the tips). Greg Norman did a good job. He designed a course that is good for tour players and resort guests as well.’’