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For these Senior tour golfers, Monday is always day of decision

Mike Miller is living a golfer's ultimate fantasy. He retired from his job in January and decided to travel around the country trying to qualify for Senior PGA Tour events.

On Monday, Miller made it, shooting a 2-under-par 69 at Cheval Polo and Golf Club to gain one of four qualifying spots in this week's $450,000 GTE Suncoast Classic at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

"I put away expenses for two years and decided to give this a shot," said Miller, 55, who is from Auburn, Wash., and was a manager for the Boeing Co. "If I don't make it, I'll give it up. It's a second career, but it's really just for fun."

Miller and his wife, Darlene, bought a motor home and plan to travel to different tour sites. But the life can be frustrating. Miller shot 84 two weeks ago in Miami and failed to get into the Royal Caribbean Classic. Last week at the Aetna Challenge in Naples, a 72 was three shots too high. Each of the qualifying sites carries an entry fee that tops $200. Then there are expenses.

"I play in about 12 or 13 of these a year," said Wayne Morris, 53, of St. Louis, who also qualified by shooting a par 71. "It's not a vacation. It's very stressful. I'm always exhausted after these things.

"I've always enjoyed competitive golf. I've just lived for it. But when you've got 130 guys playing for four spots, it's stressful. Plus it's expensive. You spend $1,000 to $1,500 a week doing these things."

This time, it was worth it. Miller and Morris will tee it up with the likes of Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and the rest of the senior tour players. Miller has qualified previously for only one tournament, the U.S. Senior Open three years ago. For Morris it will be his sixth tournament.

They will be huge long shots, but there is proof that these Monday qualifiers can be successful. Al Kelley of Eustis, who qualified with a 71, won the 1990 Newport Cup and received more than $260,000. Kelley, 57, was nicknamed "Mr. Monday" for his ability to get into tournaments through qualifying.

That year, he finished 24th on the money list and was exempt for the 1991 season. But only the top 32 are exempt for the following year, and Kelley was 40th on the 1991 money list. He gets into tournaments only when people ahead of him on the money list don't play. Since the GTE Suncoast Classic is one of the more popular events, Kelley's only in was to qualify.

"It's worth it," he said. "You find that you can't get in the tournament unless you enter. I feel I have as good of a chance of making it as anybody. I've done it in the past and I'm confident I can do it again."

Bill Panasik of Titusville gained the last qualifying spot. He shot 72, then won a five-man playoff with a birdie on the second extra hole.