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Senior qualifier attracts different stories

The Senior PGA Tour is mostly about players who made their name in golf on the PGA Tour. But it offers a small window of opportunity for those without names, but with games.

That chance comes this week at the Senior PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in California, where a field of 110 players will compete for 16 spots on the 2002 tour, with just eight fully exempt.

Among those in the field are Palm Harbor's Jay Overton, 50, and Tampa's Doug LaCrosse, 49, players with vastly different backgrounds who are hoping for a similar result: senior tour status.

The 72-hole event begins today at the PGA Southern California Golf Club in Calimesa, Calif. The field will be cut to 70 after 36 holes.

Overton, the longtime director of golf at Innisbrook, went through the process last year but did not make the cut. He nonetheless qualified or was given sponsor's exemptions to seven events in 2001, and made $173,800, 72nd on the money list.

Overton's best finish was a tie for sixth at the SAS Championship. By finishing among the top 75 money winners, Overton was exempt into the final stage of the qualifying tournament. And he did all of that in just seven tournaments.

"It really proves once again that you're not playing against anybody than the golf course," Overton said. "You just go out and shoot a number. That's what you have to do in this business. Last year, I imploded (at the qualifying tournament). I spent a lot of time looking at who I was playing against instead of just playing a golf tournament and shooting as low as I can shoot.

"If I just go play the golf course and play well like I have all year, I suspect that I'll come out fine."

LaCrosse's situation is considerably different. A lifelong amateur and four-time Florida State Golf Association player of the year, he did not turn pro until two months ago.

He won't turn 50 until May. But under a new tour rule this year, he is allowed to go through the qualifying tournament, and if he succeeds, will get to play once his 50th birthday rolls around.

"When they changed the rules, it sped up my whole calendar year. So this is a free run," said LaCrosse, who was the medalist at the first-stage senior qualifier two weeks ago at the TPC of Tampa Bay. "It's a win-win, anyway you slice it. I get the chance to do it, and if I make it, great. Then I've got a year of experience under my belt."

LaCrosse played in several mini-tour events since turning professional, winning once and finishing in the top 10 in every tournament. If he fails at the qualifying tournament, LaCrosse will attempt to qualify on Mondays and play in more mini-tour events.

"I don't know what to expect," he said. "I'm going to try and keep things in the present. Stay peaceful."

NOTE: PGA Tour qualifying continues today at Orange County National near Orlando with one of six second-stage sites. The top 20 players and ties will advance to the six-day, 108-hole finals at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Nov. 28-Dec. 3.

Among those in the 72-hole qualifier at Orange County are Brandon's Michael Bradley, Tampa's Gary Koch, Palm Harbor's Bob Heintz, and 17-year-old Ty Tryon.