Steve Haskins makes the big time ©


By Ray Sanchez


El Pasoans are surprised that Steve Haskins will be playing on the Champions Tour beginning in February. On the other hand, it seems like merely a fitting reward for the more than two decades of hard work, determination and endurance he displayed during his struggles on the so-called ďmini tours.Ē


The Champions Tour is for golfers 50 years of age and older. It evolved from a series of events called The Legends of Golf founded in 1978 and featuring some of the most successful senior golfers. The name was changed to the Senior PGA Tour in 1980 then became known as the Champions Tour in 2002. The guaranteed minimum official prize money this year was $51.4 million over 26 tournaments, with a record average purse of $1.98 million per event.


Playing the Champions Tour these days are such former regular PGA Tour greats as Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, Mark OíMeara, Bernard Langer, Tom Watson and Tom Lehman, to name just a few.

Steve Haskins, the son of former UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins, turned 51 this year. During his mini tour years he came agonizingly close to qualifying for the regular PGA Tour, once missing by a single shot, another by a late change in the rules, but he never quite made it.


After giving up the Nationwide Tour, as the former mini tours have become known, in 2005 he played only recreational golf until this year. ďI just thought it would be fun to give competition a try again,Ē he said.  The results were completely the opposite of his quest for the regular PGA Tour. This year he qualified for both the Senior U.S. Open and the Champions Tour.

He sat down with El Paso Inc. sports columnist Ray Sanchez recently for the following question and answer session.


Q. Youíll be playing against some of the greatest golfers ever, including winners of Majors, on the Champions Tour. Is it a bit scary?


No, Iím more like excited and optimistic. Before trying to qualify for the Champions Tour in November, I qualified for the Senior PGA Open in August and finished 22nd. I got a taste of what itís like playing in that kind of company and got a sense that I can do well.


Q. Why was it easier for you to qualify for the Champions Tour than for the PGA Tour?


For me it was a mind-set sort of thing. When I left the tour I went to work for T&T Staff Management here. Itís a great job and I am secure financially now. On the mini tours I was playing to make a living. Now, without that stress, I can go out and play for fun and itís made a world of difference.


Q. So being loose and carefree has affected your swing that much? Are you hitting the ball better than ever?


Iím hittingthe ball very well, but thereís another reason for it. Luke Thompson and Danny Swain (professionals at Coronado Country Club) plus Bill Eschenbrenner were three of my early instructors. I felt very comfortable with what they taught me and did very well. But I got away from that on the advice of another instructor later. He was mesmerized by Lee Trevinoís swing and tried to incorporate some of his swing into mine. I struggled and struggled and even hurt my back. It affected my performance for years. Finally, I decided to go back to my old swing and Iíve been playing better ever since.


Q. So what is your swing like now?


I was bending over too much. Now I concentrate on keeping my spine straight and turning my shoulders back and forth around it. They tell you to keep your head down but I donít bend it down. Itís something like casting a fish line.


Q. You finished first in the Champions Tour qualifier in Houston and had the lead going into the final round in Phoenix but lost it. What happened?


A. I was starting to have mind problems again before the final round in Phoenix. I called my wife, Carmen, and she calmed me down. Sheís helped me a lot through the years in that respect. I four putted the sixteenth hole on the final day but still shot a 74 and it was good enough to get second.


Q. Obviously travel expenses are a huge burden for any tour. Have you found any financial backers for the Champions Tour?


Iíve talked to some people. T&T has been very supportive and will help. A touring professional can do a lot for a company. He gives it national exposure and can talk it up at pro ams and other events. Iím going to keep my job with T&T, take care of my clients and do as much as I can for it. But I will need more help. Not only companies, but individuals can help, too. They can make backing a professional an investment and get back a percentage of winnings. Iím open to help by any company or individual.


Q. You had some great years on the mini tours. What was your biggest accomplishment?


The thing Iím most proud of is that I won more than 20 tournaments worth $100,000.


What is your biggest disappointment besides not making the regular PGA Tour?


Itís the fact I never received a pension. I made 200 cuts but they didnít count some of my overseas tournaments. Other players with lesser records did get a pension.

Another disappointment came one year when I finished ninth among money winners and the PGA Tour had announced it was going to take the top 10 on the list. It changed the rule later and took only the top five.


Q. How do you think your father would feel about your making the Champions Tour if he were alive?


I think he would be really proud. We talked about it before he died. He wanted me to play. I always felt he was with me out there on the tour. At the Senior Open I was having a hard time early on and I looked up into the sky wondering what I should do. I realized then what he would say: ďYouíd better suck it up.Ē That was his favorite phrase for me. I had the same experience when I got into trouble during qualifying for the Champions Tour. Another piece of advice that he gave me that has helped was to work up a good routine and keep using it. He compared it to free throw shooting. He said a player with a good routine would be a good shooter and that it was the same in golf. I miss him.