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Champions Tour allows some to turn pro at 50

The Champions Tour is about the names of the past, the stars who shined on the PGA Tour, the golfers who drew a crowd in their prime and still attract attention as 50-something players.

But there are still plenty of dreamers, and it takes a vivid imagination to believe that a player of no pedigree could manage to find his way among the legends.

Some always manage, fighting nearly impossible odds, finding a way to earn a spot among golf's greatest names, hoping that perhaps their game is good enough to compete.

Scott Masingill might not be as unlikely as Robert Landers, the farmer who once made his way onto the Champions Tour. Or he might not turn out to be as successful as Walt Zembriski, the former steelworker who won three times. But his story is unique, too.

For one, he is from Idaho and still makes his home there. His career was not spent pounding golf balls, but working for a trucking company, which he still does. And despite winning the Pac-8 individual title in 1971 while playing golf for Oregon State, Masingill never had any desire to turn pro until the age 50 approached.

"Probably, if I would have known how difficult it was, I wouldn't have done it," said Masingill, 54, who will play in his third event as a member of the Champions Tour at this week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am. "I played in four (qualifying tournaments), played in probably 60 to 65 Monday qualifiers in the last four years. I played in 13 tour events through Monday qualifying, which is really tough. You're playing against 100 guys for two spots, spending a lot of money.

"I just kept thinking, "I can do this.' I was just close enough, had enough of a taste of it, that I kept plugging along. My wife (Laurie) every once in a while would say you need to keep after this. Many times I wanted to go back to work and do something easier. She said you'll regret it if you don't give it the effort."

So Masingill returned to the Champions Tour Qualifying Tournament last fall and managed to finish tied for fourth in the grueling 108-hole event. Only the top seven players earn full exempt status for the following year.

And unless you had a name on the PGA and made enough money to have status among the career money earning category, Q-School - or Monday qualifying - is the only way onto the Champions Tour.

"It is such an intense pressure situation," said Rick Karbowski, who birdied the final hole at the PGA of Southern California Golf Club to claim the seventh and last spot by one stroke. "It changed my life. It's just been incredible."

Karbowski, 50, is a long-time club pro from New England. He played in two Champions Tour events last year after turning 50.

And yet there he was Sunday in contention at the ACE Group Classic in Naples. With a final-round 71, he tied for sixth and earned $51,840 and is 28th on the Champions Tour money list.

But therein lies the rub. In order to remain exempt for next year, Karbowski and Masingill will need to finish among the top 30 money winners. So will Bill Longmuir, 52, who is from England and played on the European Seniors Tour. Same for Massy Kuramoto, 50, of Japan, another Q-school grad, who won 34 times on the Japan Golf Tour. That's tough to do against the likes of Hale Irwin, Loren Roberts, Dana Quigley and others.

Quigley is the dreamers' patron saint. After a failed attempt at playing the PGA Tour, Quigley worked as a club pro. He had no status when he attempted to Monday qualify for a series of Champions Tour events in 1997. He made it into the Northville Long Island Classic, won the event on Sunday and has never looked back. Last year, at age 58, he led the money list.

"Before I won, I had played in 10 qualifiers and made it in five. I really didn't know how hard that was," Quigley said. "The odds are so stacked against you. Now there are only two spots (on Mondays). They keep trying to take stuff away from those guys who didn't have a career like I didn't.

"It's a hard thing. I'm rooting for all of them. I'd love to see another one come along like I did and prove to everyone in the world that if you believe in yourself, you can do it."

Masingill had plenty of success in amateur circles, winning nine Idaho State Amateur titles, five stroke play titles and five match play championships.

But the idea of doing it for a living and traveling the country never really appealed to him. Until he got older.

And then he didn't give up.

So far, Masingill has failed to break 70 in six rounds this year, with a tie for 52nd at the Turtle Bay Championship followed by a tie for 68th last week in Naples. The $5,304 he has earned puts him 79th on the money list. He'll need to finish at least 50th to avoid a return trip to the qualifying tournament and in the top 30 to be fully exempt.

None of that is even on his mind at the moment.

"I'll get on the first tee and hit as good of a tee shot as I possibly can," he said. "And the last putt in San Antonio at the end of October, I'm going to hit as good as I can. I'm going to play every shot as good as I possibly can for eight or nine months. And whatever happens, happens. I'm not going to let anything upset me. I'm going to hope to get in contention. I'm going to hope to learn and see what my game can do."

And it won't hurt to keep dreaming.