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Field of Dreamers

Wibby often shoots himself out of competition with double bogeys on the opening holes, a tendency he attributes to rookie nerves. But he says he is getting more comfortable out on the course with each qualifier he enters and insists that he is becoming a better player. Thanks to his years at Duracell, he is well situated financially, as are his ex-wife and son, who live in Palm Beach, Florida, and he has the luxury to keep chasing his dreams in his late-model Mercedes convertible.

"I have no responsibilities, so I can play as much golf as I want to," he says with an unembarrassed grin. "Besides, it's a hell of a lot better than going back to the corporate world. With the stock market the way it is, and the economy the way it is, who wants to do that?"

Bob Longo, 52, is the son of a butcher from Utica, New York, and the head professional at Seawane Club in Hewlett Harbor on Long Island for the past eighteen years. Stout and strong armed, he can drive the ball well over 300 yards with fairway-splitting consistency and but for a balky putting touch might well have gotten through Senior Tour qualifying school in 2000, where he missed by a single shot. But that year he qualified for the Lightpath Classic at Bethpage, and repeated the feat in 2002. His priorities, he says, are his wife, kids and club job. But if he were to go on and win the Lightpath. . . . "We'll just cross that bridge when we come to it," he says with a wink.

Kersenbrock, another late bloomer, took up golf in his mid-twenties, when he quickly distinguished himself in local and regional long-drive contests in Nevada, Arizona and California. He was considering turning pro when he met his wife, Fran, a devout evangelical who introduced him to her church. Kersenbrock soon became an associate pastor, working construction jobs during the week to support his growing family until an act of God intervened.

"After I got saved, I quit playing golf for thirteen years," Kersenbrock recalls. "Then our house burned down and we moved to a new home located at the corner of Golf and Niblick Streets. My congregation, my family and I took that as a sign that I should start playing the game again."

Kersenbrock says he is content to progress gradually toward his goal of making the Champions Tour, relying on his gifts of strength and flexibility as he learns more about technique. In 2001, he missed the cut in the first stage of the Senior Tour qualifying school but plans to keep trying. As of the Bethpage event, he had competed in about a dozen Monday qualifiers. His best showing was missing a play-off in the Greystone Classic qualifier by one stroke. But he believes one of his greatest contributions to the circuit may prove to be his work as a faith healer.

"Several times I've laid hands on people and they've been healed," Kersenbrock claims. "I've healed people who've had problems with their eyes, their walking, people with colds, people with illnesses as severe as kidney cancer and people with emotional and mental illness. I'm not just out there to play golf. One of the things I love about Monday qualifying is the people I meet. I love to lift people up. And there's a lot of hopelessness and discouragement out there."

James Mason is who every Champions Tour wanna-be wants to be. He is one of only nine players in the history of the circuit who has won a spot in Monday qualifying and then gone on to capture the tournament that week. A sturdy five-foot-eleven and 240 pounds, Mason played college golf at Auburn and thrice failed to make it through qualifying school for the regular PGA Tour. Like the silhouette on the Champions Tour logo, he wears knickers in competitive rounds, a fashion he adopted after participating in a charity event with the late Payne Stewart.

Mason's breakthrough victory did not come easily or overnight. After turning fifty in January 2001, he won spots in five of fourteen Monday qualifiers he played in, only to fall apart in the full-field tournaments. That is not uncommon. As Mason points out, Monday qualifying is the highlight of the week for most Monday qualifiers, who then tend to forget that they have to turn in peak performances all over again on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They also have to overcome the awestruck factor.

"I had been intimidated by playing against the big names you see on TV," Mason recalls prior to teeing off in the Lightpath. "It took me awhile to realize I'm not playing against these big guys, I'm playing against the golf course. After that, I finally got out of my own way."

In the first round of the 2002 NFL Classic, Mason scorched the 6,816-yard par-seventy-two Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey with a sixty-five to grab a one-shot lead. But after stumbling to a seventy-three under unfamiliar media attention in the second round, it took a couple of miracles for Mason to pull through. En route to his final round sixty-nine, he holed out for eagle from 100 yards on the second hole, then holed a bunker shot for a birdie on the sixth.


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