There’s no telling how many middle-age amateur golfers have watched a Champions Tour event and wondered if they have what it takes to be the next Jay Sigel. The Champions Tour, known as the Senior PGA Tour until 2002, is open to golfers age 50 and over. While most of the top players on the Champions Tour were successful on the PGA Tour, Sigel, a two-time U.S. Amateur winner, didn’t even turn pro until he was 50. In 1993, Sigel finished 11th in the Champions Tour's National Qualifying Tournament to earn a conditional tour card. Over the next 19 years he won eight Champions Tour events and more than $9 million. Golfers hoping to follow in his footsteps must first enter a regional qualifying tournament.
The Champions Tour
The Senior PGA began in 1980, with just two events and combined purses of $250,000. The 2012 Champions Tour schedule includes 23 regular season events, with single-tournament purses of $1.6 million to $2.7 million.
Champions Tour qualifying begins at several regional sites across the country. Approximately 78 golfers compete in each 72-hole, stroke-play competition. The percentage of regional participants who advance to the final qualifying round varies each year, based on the total number of entrants at all the regional sites. Players who are tied for the last qualifying position must survive a hole-by-hole playoff to advance. As of 2011, the entry fee for Champions Tour regional qualifying was $2,500.
Final Qualifying Stage
The 78 golfers who reach the final qualifying stage include some who were exempt from regional play based on their success on the Champions Tour, the European Senior Tour and Japan’s senior tour. The final is also a four-day, 72-hole tournament. The top five finishers in the finals earn cards that make them fully exempt on the Champions Tour until the last six full-field tournaments of the following season. The sixth through 12th place finishers earn conditional exemptions, allowing them to play Champions Tour events when space permits.
The top 30 finishers, plus ties, in the Final Qualifying Stage are also eligible to play in the 18-hole Event Qualifier that precedes each full-field Champions Tour event. Amateurs over age 50 also are eligible to play in each Champions Tour event’s Pre-Qualifier. A maximum of six players from the 18-hole Pre-Qualifier can earn spots in the Qualifier. A maximum of four players from the Qualifier can play in that week’s Champions Tour event.