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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Million Dollar Man

The Million Dollar Man
Jim Colbert and the first million-dollar purse in PGA Tour history

Story by Brian Hurlburt

It took about 30 years before a hometown resident won a PGA Tour event, which was played on home soil. Kevin Na became the first golfer to accomplish that feat when he won the 2011 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. A year later, four-time UNLV All-American Ryan Moore matched Na as a hometown winner when he won the Shriners event.

But nearly two decades prior to those wins, Jim Colbert became the first resident to win a PGA Tour-sanctioned event played in Las Vegas when he won the 1995 Las Vegas Senior Classic. He defended his title in 1996 and walked away with another Vegas trophy after the presentation on the 18th green of TPC Summerlin.

It was more than fitting that Colbert was the first local to win a big-time professional event in the city that glitters because he is the man responsible for returning professional golf to Las Vegas. In the early eighties he helped create the Las Vegas Founders Club, a group of business leaders that went on to raise $14 million for charity and operate events on the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, and Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) for more than 20 years.

But Colbert sometimes is remembered more for his impact off the course than for how damn good of a player he was on it. Colbert won eight times on the PGA Tour and 20 times on the Senior PGA Tour, and was named Player of the Year in 1995 and 1996. The two Vegas wins will always be a career highlight for Colbert.

Jim Colbert remembers winning in Vegas in his own words:

“I don’t know whether it’s too cliché, but that was the icing on the cake. I can remember the first time I won, I got to the 18th hole in the final round and I hit this really weak 7-iron over to the right side of the green. Like always, the pin was kind of on the back left, and I’m walkin’ over looking at what I have left, and I had a 65-footer. At the time I had a 2-shot lead, but Rocky Thompson had about a 20-footer for birdie, and Raymond Floyd had about a 12-footer, also for a birdie. So if I two putt they can’t get me, but if I three-putt and one or both makes their putts, we would tie. So I’m talking to myself, giving myself advice. It was just like the advice I’ve always told my amateurs when I play with them. I always tell them, ‘Your body only knows one way to putt, and that’s to try to make it. The ball doesn’t have any idea how to get close.’ So I talked myself into that and I hit this 65-footer that had about five feet of break right to left, and I’m tellin’ you, it came up six inches short. So that sealed the deal.

“So the significance of that putt is the next year during the final round, I bogey 17. I’m playing with Dave Stockton, and Bob Charles is behind us. Stockton had me by one, and Charles had me by two. And I hit that same damn weak 7-iron over to the right side of the green on 18. And darn if I’m not in the exact same spot as ’95. And the pin was in the exact same spot. So Stockton’s got about a ten-footer for birdie. And he’s lookin’ at the board and he’s gettin’ his mind set. He thinks he’s gonna make it. He needs to make a birdie because he’s one behind Charles who is playing 17. But I’m tellin’ you, I made my putt! It was the exact same putt as the year before. But instead of stopping six inches from the hole, it went in. And it’s the only time I saw Stockton get rattled because Stockton was really strong mentally and a really good competitor. But when that ball went in, he turned his head and looked at me, because he’d already dismissed me from being able to challenge him and Charles. He was shocked. And damned if he didn’t miss that ten-foot putt. And Charles three-putts 17 and 18 and we go to a playoff. And then I win the playoff. It was crazy. I’ll take those two putts to the grave with me.”

 

This article is presented by the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of golf in Las Vegas. Brian Hurlburt serves as the President. For more info visit LasVegasGolfHOF.com. Excerpts in this article are from City of Champions: The history of Professional Golf in Las Vegas (www.progolflasvegasbook.com).

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