IN HIS first full year on the Senior PGA Tour, Bruce Summerhays is having a hard time staying anonymous. That's him on national television, challenging for the lead. That's him near the top of the money list, crowding such publicized golf legends as Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and J.C. Snead. That's him handling the media interviews in the press tent instead of strolling unmolested into the clubhouse locker room.
As a rookie on the Senior Tour - he turned 50 and joined the Tour part way through last season - Summerhays has been as sneaky-quiet as a bulldozer. If not yet to the point of selling Penzoil on TV, he's at least becoming a well-known name."People come rushing up to get an autograph and they know who you are," he said.
Summerhays is this year's Senior Tour man-out-of-nowhere story. A longtime club pro and golf instructor who resides in Heber City, he's been racking up high finishes all year. He's the story of a guy who when he turned 50 decided it wasn't time to start scaling back for retirement just yet. Instead, he mapped out a plan with his brother and other family members and, upon implementing the plan, found it had worked to perfection.
Summerhays hit Park City this week like a big-scale land developer. He was all over the place. On Tuesday he showed up for the Merrill Lynch Shootout at Park Meadows - a 20-minute drive from his home - and won. When it came down to the final hole and all that was left were him and Bruce Crampton, he lofted a textbook approach shot to within seven feet of the pin, then tapped it in for the victory.
Just the way it's supposed to happen.
Of course, the big event is the actual Franklin Quest Championship, which begins Friday at Park Meadows. There, Summerhays will attempt to get his first-ever Senior PGA Tour first-place finish.
"Winning one puts it on a new level," he said.
If Summerhays has yet to finish first, that's about all he hasn't done on his maiden voyage on the Tour. He played well through the early part of the season but by mid-May he was coming on stronger than garlic. He finished tied for fifth at the Bell Atlantic Classic and followed in June with a fourth-place tie at the Dallas Reunion Pro-Am. A week later, he shot a stunning63 in the first round and led after two rounds at the Nationwide Championship. Eventually he finished with an 11-under 205, tied for second.
All told, Summerhays finished tied for third, 10th, fourth and second during the four weekends in June. "I had an awesome run," he said.
"I looked at that and said, `H-m-m-m-m-m-m, maybe I'm doing OK.' "
If you're Summerhays' accountant, you have to figure he's doing more than OK. The former Wasatch Mountain pro has earned $490,211 so far on the tour. On his first time out, he picked up $10,564, tying for 19th at the Royal Caribbean Classic. Since then he's had to keep a bank deposit slip in his pocket. His third-place tie at Bruno's Memorial netted him $57,888. His biggest paycheck so far was for the second-place finish at the Nationwide Championship in Atlanta, in which he earned $96,400.
"My wife almost passed out," he told one writer.
He's 14th on the earnings list so far, trailing Nicklaus (No. 12) by about $48,000. However, as Summerhays modestly points out, Nicklaus has played in just seven events so far this year; he's played in 25.
"I know I can play with them," he said. "I'm not at their level, but it's coming though."
And coming fast. Were it not for another Tour rookie, Hale Irwin, Summerhays would be the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Irwin, a regular Tour fixture for 26 years, won over $5 million before joining the Seniors. Irwin ranks 18th on this year's earnings list with $442,809, but has played in only seven events.
"The only reason I'm thinking about (Rookie of the Year) is because people are talking about it. Hale Irwin is the best golfer out here as a rookie. There's no doubt about that," he added.
So under such serendipitous circumstances it is that Summerhays returns home this week to play in the Franklin Quest Championship. It could produce his first Tour victory or move him toward winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Whatever the case, Summerhays has made his point. He's not only playing with the Big Boys, he's earning the Big Bucks.
"This," said Summerhays, "is funner than fun."
Not to mention perfecter than perfect.