The Senior Skins has taken on a life of its own the past 23 years. There have been so many birdies, burgers and bizarre situations that all that can be expected at this weekend’s 24th Kaanapali Champions Skins Game is the unexpected.
The teams of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw, Mark O’Meara and Bernhard Langer, and Nick Price and Fred Couples tee off today and tomorrow at the Royal Kaanapali Course on Maui.
Nicklaus, 71, and Watson, a decade younger, are the gracefully aging defending champions. Nicklaus won the first of his 18 majors in 1962. Watson nearly won his sixth British Open last year and came in third at the Champions Tour season-opener last week at Hualalai.
Nicklaus has seen it all, or somewhere close, in 20 previous Senior Skins appearances. Often, he has been an integral part of the Skins’ innate quirkiness. The game pays off only if a golfer, or in this case a team, wins a hole outright. If a hole is halved, the money carries over to the next hole, often over and over again.
2011 KAANAPALI CHAMPIONS SKINS GAME
» Who: Teams of Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw-Fuzzy Zoeller, Bernhard Langer-Mark O’Meara and Fred Couples-Nick Price
» When: Starting at 2 p.m. today (first nine holes) and tomorrow (last nine holes)
» Where: Royal Kaanapali Golf Course, Maui (Par 71, 6,760 yards)
» Purse: $770,000 — $30,000 each for holes No. 1-6, $40,000 each for holes No. 7-12, $50,000 each for holes No. 13-17, $100,000 for the 18th. Money carries over if no team wins hole outright.
» Defending champions: Nicklaus and Watson (10 skins, $350,000)
» Format: Two-man team, alternate shot
» Admission: Free, parking at Whalers Village
» TV: Live on Golf Channel
» Information: (808) 661-3691 or kaanapaligolfcourses.com
A decade ago, Nicklaus drained a 4-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation that would eventually cost him a win. The make halved Gary Player and sent it to overtime, where Hale Irwin won.
Nicklaus pondered his dilemma to no one in particular before he hit the putt that ultimately prevented him from winning in 2001. Irwin, with no chance if Nicklaus missed, smiled and encouraged him to "knock it in."
Player, who would have been $180,000 richer if Nicklaus missed, made another suggestion, followed by a wink: "Have you ever had anyone offer you $50,000 to miss a putt?"
Chi Chi Rodriguez won the first two Senior Skins games, at Turtle Bay and La Quinta, Calif. The exhibition, broadcast as a Super Bowl warm-up for many years, moved to Mauna Lani in 1990 and stayed for 11 years.
In that first year, Arnold Palmer won $240,000. It was the biggest payday of his unparalleled golf career, and $7,000 more than he made in his best year on the regular tour.
The next year, Nicklaus rammed in a 35-foot eagle putt on the third playoff hole to win the game, nine skins and $285,000. There have been only four more eagles since — three by Nicklaus.
Palmer won the next two Senior Skins Games, but would not win again despite playing nearly every year until 2009.
Raymond Floyd found a way to five-peat from 1994 to 1998, then Hale Irwin got hot. In between, Player made the biggest comeback in history.
After being shut out for 60 holes over 11 years, Player sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole in 2000 to overtake Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson in a reunion of the original Skins Game in 1983.
In 2003, Lee Trevino got his only Senior Skins victory after 6 hours of nearly nonstop talk, making a 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to beat Irwin. It was the first skin Trevino had won in 10 years.
Earlier, Trevino buried an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation. Before he hit that, he told a joke to the gallery, sang the Beverly Hillbillies theme song and admitted he had no idea where the putt was going.
The following year, Wendy’s took over as title sponsor and the winner received a year’s worth of free Old Fashioned Hamburgers. Palmer, then 74, missed a 10-foot putt on the 18th that would have given him the game, $400,000 and all the burgers he could have eaten.
He missed and finished second to Watson — a decade younger than anyone else in the field of four.
"You’ll probably play another 10 years now," Nicklaus told Palmer.
"I wanted to make that putt and then think about it," Palmer answered.
Nicklaus got the biggest payday of his legendary career the following year and the team format debuted a year later, with Floyd sinking a winning putt that was all substance and no style.
"I hit the ground and the ball at the same time," Floyd conceded. "In other words, I hit it fat."
He and partner Dana Quigley won a then-record $410,000, which Quigley figured was the total of his salary over a 14-year career as head pro.
Two years ago, Zoeller and Crenshaw broke that record, splitting $530,000.
CHAMPIONS SKINS GAME
Through the Years