Dave Eichelberger will be up close and personal with the young and the restless on the PGA Tour again at the Sony Open in Hawaii in six weeks. Today and tomorrow the 67-year-old could go toe-to-toe with teenagers at the Gov. John A. Burns Challenge Cup.
The 12-golfer amateur and professional teams tee off in the Ryder Cup-style format from 7:15 a.m. both days at Mid-Pacific Country Club. Both rounds today are team matches, with singles tomorrow. Golfers qualify based on play during the year.
The amateurs have won the past three — for the first time in history — to close their deficit to 23-13-1. The 12 that play are also eligible to compete on Dec. 20 at Waialae Country Club for one spot in the Sony, thanks to Sony and Friends of Hawaii Charities.
Tadd Fujikawa used it as a springboard to a 20th-place finish in the 2006 Sony, and turned pro months later, at age 16, about the same age as Lorens Chan and reigning state high school champion Rudy Cabalar Jr.
In contrast, Eichelberger has played more than 1,200 tour events. He won four times on the PGA Tour and six more on Champions Tour before moving to Hawaii, where he was "honored" to be invited next week.
"I’m pretty much expecting to play a 16-year-old," says Eichelberger, who earned his Sony exemption by shooting his age to win this year’s Aloha Section PGA Professional Championship. "It seems like most of the really good amateur players are all young guys."
There are a couple of notable exceptions. Brandan Kop, playing in his 30th Governor’s Cup, and Jonathan Ota are closing on 50. Both have played in the Sony. So has Chan, two years ago when he was an ‘Iolani freshman.
This will be his fourth Governor’s Cup and he has had great success in the first three. Two weeks ago, he went undefeated for the junior Hawaii team at the Asia-Pacific Cup, in a format similar to next week’s.
"To represent something is an honor, especially in Hawaii," Chan says "This is a lot of fun. You’re playing with the top pros and getting together as one team, so it’s a fun thing, instead of trying to beat each other up like most of the time."
Chan works with David Ishii, who followed him at Sony two years ago while he played with Ricky Barnes and Jason Duff. A "little streak of bogeys" in the second round kept Chan from becoming the youngest ever to make a PGA Tour cut. Fujikawa was the youngest in 50 years.
Chan still remembers every moment, and Eichelberger says the amateur that gets in this year should do the same. He will.
"Look at it as a wonderful opportunity to be up close to these guys and measure yourself and see where you are and where you need to be," he advises. "Get a real up-close picture there."
That’s what he plans to do, "to get a chance to see kind of what I used to be like, 45 years ago basically." He is playing six days a week to prepare.
Maybe this year, the focus will be on the other end of the age spectrum.
"If there was ever a place I stood a chance to play well and post a score on the PGA Tour it would be Waialae because of the nature of the golf course," Eichelberger says. "I can basically run the ball up to every green but one. A lot of other places I’ve seen, I stand no chance."