WEST DES MOINES-- For Bruce Summerhays, life began at 50. Well, golf life, anyway.
Summerhays never qualified for the PGA Tour during his younger days. He spent those years as a club pro.
Then he turned 50, joined the Senior Tour and became a millionaire several times over. Summerhays has won two tournaments and earned more than $6.4 million since becoming a senior in 1994.
"How many lessons would you have to give to make the kind of money we're making here?" said Summerhays, who returns to this week's Allianz Championship at Glen Oaks after tying for fourth last year.
"You just can't do it. This has been a special opportunity. I'm just grateful I've been able to take advantage of it."
So are James Mason, Stewart Ginn and Sammy Rachels. None is well known in golf circles, yet each has won a Senior tournament this year. All three will play in the Allianz, which starts Friday.
"People have no clue who they are and that's the unfortunate part of it," said Hale Irwin, who has been the top player on the Senior Tour. "The level of play out here is pretty spectacular and it's getting better."
Mason, a teaching pro, won the NFL Golf Classic after getting into the field as a Monday qualifier.
Rachels had 11 top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour from 1975 through 1985, but was a club pro for 10 years before joining the Senior Tour in 2001. He promptly won two tournaments and earned $932,031, nearly four times as much as he won during his entire time on the PGA Tour.
Ginn, an Australian living in Malaysia and a Steven Spielberg lookalike, won the final major this year, the Senior Players Championship. Most of his success has been overseas, however, with victories in the Malaysian Masters, Tasmanian Open and Indian Open.
"It's become pretty much a college factory on the regular tour," said Bruce Lietzke, one of the top Senior players. "You know who the young talent is, who is coming out.
"But you get guys popping up out here that nobody has heard of. And some of them can play. That's the beauty of the Senior Tour, the access for the common man to do something."
And to realize a dream.
"It's the American dream for people who are hooked on golf," Lietzke said. "And boy, we know there are thousands of those who want to come out here and play professional golf."
Summerhays puts it another way.
"It's like winning the lottery for us," he said.