"I was a happy boy," Mason admits. "I was relieved."
So how has Mason's first Champions Tour win changed his life?The short answer is completely and not much at all.
For the twelve months following the 2002 NFL Classic, Mason would enjoy an exemption into each week's tournament without having to struggle through Monday qualifying. His first-place check of $195,000 would put him on sound financial footing, at least temporarily. But winning one event by no means guaranteed that he would continue to have an exemption beyond mid-May of 2003 unless he also played well enough in the interim period to rank among the tour's top-thirty-one money winners. As a result, Mason isn't putting on any airs.
"I've been staying in nicer hotels, but that's about it," he says. "I haven't gone out and bought anything. I'm still driving a 1993 Cadillac with 150,000 miles that I inherited from my daddy when he died. With the present economic climate, you don't know what the hell might happen with the tour and the sponsors."
Meanwhile, Mason is playing in just about every event on the schedule, a grind that can remind even successful Champions Tour wanna-bes to be careful what they wish for. After his victory at the NFL Classic, he played nine straight weeks and by his own admission was feeling "a little burned out."
Temperatures in the mid-nineties seemed to burn out much of the field in the 2002 Lightpath, especially some of the Monday qualifiers. The long-hitting Longo topped his drive about 150 yards on the first hole of the first round en route to a seventy-nine, the highest score of the day. He rallied with rounds of 73-67 that left him in a tie for sixty-seventh place and a check for $1,558. Kersenbrock's prayers may have helped Jarvis find his wallet, but his friend's putting stroke then disappeared. Jarvis shot 70-72-74, finishing tied for fifty-seventh and earning $3,315. Overton turned in the best performance of the Monday qualifiers. After briefly leading the field during the opening holes of the first round at four under par, he carded scores of 67-72-70. He wound up with a tie for twenty-fourth and a check for $16,252.
Although Mason avoided the kind of lapses that had dogged him prior to his first win, his performance in the Lightpath was disappointing. His rounds of 72-75-71 earned him a tie for sixty-third place and $2,295. That left him nineteen shots and $252,705 behind Hubert Green, who fired rounds of 67-64-68 and won the tournament in a play-off against Hale Irwin. As of the conclusion of the Lightpath, Mason ranked forty-ninth on the Champions Tour money list, which put him well short for maintaining his weekly exemption beyond May.
"If I don't start playing better soon," he grouses, "I may be back to Monday qualifying."