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Saturday, 19 June 2010
Maurice Bembridge  (Getty Images)
Maurice Bembridge (Getty Images)

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  • Jim Rhodes

By the very nature of being a competitor on the European Senior Tour, career longevity is part of your make-up. However, some players can lay claim to greater achievements on that score than others.

Two such gentlemen who fall into that category are Englishmen Maurice Bembridge and Jim Rhodes who have created Senior Tour history this season by becoming the first two players to pass the 250 tournament appearance mark.

Bembridge, who is Chairman of the Senior Tour Committee, reached the notable milestone in the Matrix Jersey Classic two weeks ago while Rhodes – who also sits on the Committee – reached 250 last week in the Handa Irish Senior Open.

Both men are at Royal Porthcawl to compete in The Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open – Bembridge’s 252nd appearance and Rhodes’ 251st – and took time out to share some of their thoughts and memories about their combined 29 years of Senior Tour action.

“I am very proud indeed of the achievement of passing 250 appearances,” said 64 year old Rhodes who turned professional in 1963 and who has three Senior Tour victories to his name; the SSL International/Sodexho Match Play Championship in 2001, the Jersey Seniors Classic in 2004 and the Nigel Mansell Sunseeker International Classic in 2005.

“I’ve played for 14 years out here and there are not many events that I have missed in that time. When I first joined the Tour I thought if I could have three or four years of competitive golf I would have done well, and then I got to five and I thought that was pretty good and now here I am in my 14th year.

“So I am proud of myself for that and I’m proud of the fact that for most of that time I have had Category 1 Membership. Obviously I don’t have that anymore and have to rely on the Career Money List, but I am hoping to continue for a while yet.

“It is a great Tour and a wonderful Tour to play on. It’s very friendly but it is still competitive nonetheless and as long as I can continue to play to a reasonable standard, then I will want to keep playing.”

Every win is memorable for a professional golfer but there is always a little extra special joy gleaned from your first victory and even more so for Rhodes in that it came at Le Meridien Penina Resort.

“I love Portugal and I love Penina and, of course, I have an attachment there too so it was very special indeed to win the Match Play there,” he said.

“The other two wins were very important milestones in my career too and are the things you always cherish as a professional. Those are the things you have the photographs of on your mantelpiece and what you have the fondest memories of too.

“Elsewhere, I also think the Senior Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 1997 where I finished third behind Gary Player and John Bland was also a highlight for me. I played very well that week in some exalted company.”

Together with Bembridge, Rhodes works hard on the Senior Tour Committee to ensure not only matters are adhered to for the Senior Tour players of 2010 but also for those who will come onto the Tour and play in the years ahead.

“We all realise that times are difficult at the moment with the economic situation but, overall, there seems to be a very positive attitude towards Seniors golf and the more the regular Tour pros come onto our Tour and play, then I can only see a bright future,” said Rhodes.

“It is encouraging to see guys like Barry Lane and Andy Oldcorn turn 50 and immediately come and play on the Tour and it is also good to see the Major Champions such as Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam who are playing on a regular basis.

“The standard of the play now is much higher than it was even two or three years ago and I think that will continue as the guys come off the regular Tour. In fact, the standard of play is the biggest change I’ve seen from my first year to nowadays.

“The first tournament I played in 1996 was in Turkey and the scoring was horrendous but there were 120 players of course. It was then cut to 90 player fields in subsequent years and now down to the 72 we have today. As a result, the standard of play is much better throughout the field.

“Another big improvement has come in the infrastructure around the events like the one we have this week here in Wales, but across the Tour it has got better. Practice ranges are better, the overall facilities for the players are better, physio services have improved, everything is moving in the right direction.”

Bembridge, as Committee Chairman, has every reason to be proud of overseeing such a development along with many others.

“I try and think about everybody in the role rather than just a few players,” said the 65 year old who turned professional in 1960 and whose stellar career on The European Tour featured nine tournament victories in addition to four Ryder Cup appearances including in 1973 at Muirfield in Scotland where he played Jack Nicklaus twice in one day in the singles, halving the morning match and only narrowly losing the afternoon tie on the 18th green.

“The Senior Tour in general has grown and it also offers up a great opportunity for players who haven’t been tournament professionals. There are a lot of guys who are extremely good players but who have chosen a life as a club professional and now they have a chance to come through. That is the beauty of golf because you can play until you are 90 – in fact I actually know guys who are 90 and who are still playing the game.”

As for his own competitive future, the man who won two European Senior Tour titles – the 1996 Hippo Jersey Open and the 1998 Swedish Seniors Open – gave a hint that his time on the Tour he has graced since 1995 might be coming to an end.

“I don’t actually keep count of the number of tournaments I’ve played to be honest and if I think about all the tournaments I’ve played over all the years on all the Tours then it would run into several hundreds. But to be told I’ve now played 252 Senior Tour events, I must admit, is a fair achievement.

“I’m not sure of the secret of my career longevity. I like to think I am still fit although sometimes I wonder! But the key is that I always enjoy playing. No-one enjoys playing badly but if I play well, I still enjoy the competitive nature of the Tour.

“However I’ve been thinking about it and perhaps next year might be my last go round. Thinking back, I played the Coombe Hill Assistants event in 1961 which, if I played on Tour next year would represent 50 years of tournament golf – that would be another memorable landmark. Therefore, I will try and stay fit and healthy enough to play until then.”

Like Rhodes, Bembridge is particularly proud of his Senior Tour victories, the latter in Sweden, ironically, coming when he beat Rhodes in a play-off at Fagelbro.

“The two wins are the highlights, definitely,” he said. “Any time you win it is a great feeling, after all, that is what you play the game for to try and beat everybody in the field that week. Obviously the money is important to but to win a tournament, that is the feeling you want as a professional golfer.”

Maurice Bembridge and Jim Rhodes are true class acts. Long may they continue.

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