In 1971, Tom Kite qualified for the Masters, marking the beginning of a long run for the Texan. Now, 40 years later, he'll be playing his 1,000th professional golf event at the SAS Championship in Cary.
I talked to Tom Kite Thursday after he played a pro-am round prior to the SAS Championship, and he said luck played some role in his longevity. But in 1971, playing golf at 61 wasn't in his mind.
"I was wondering if I would get to two when I played the first tournament there," Kite said of the 1971 Masters. "I was an amateur, qualified for the Masters because of my finish in the U.S. Amateur, and quite honestly, that was the furthest thing from my mind.
"My goal was to get on the PGA Tour and try to become a pretty good player out on the tour."
Kite has had 38 victories over the years, including the 1992 U.S. Open. Between 1989 and 1994, he spent 175 weeks in the Top 10 of the World Golf Rankings, and he's played on seven Ryder Cup teams.
Success or longevity never really entered his mind though.
"I just wanted to play, and fortunately I've been relatively healthy through the 40 years or 39 years that I've been out here, so I haven't missed many tournaments because of some injuries, and so all of a sudden 38 years later, 39 years later, here we are and it's 1,000." Kite said.
SAS Championship officials presented Kite with a cake marking the historic event as he teed off this morning at Prestonwood Country Club for the first round. It was the second time in three years that Prestonwood was the site of a player's 1,000th career start. In 2009, Leonard Thompson made his 1,000th combined-
And Kite, who has six Top 25 finishes this year on the Champions Tour, said he has no plans to hang up his clubs.
"As I told a buddy of mine back home when he heard that I was having 1,000, I said yeah, 'I'm just older than dirt,'" Kite said. "He said, 'Yeah, you're older than dirt, but you're not in it yet.' I said, 'Yeah, that's a good point.'
"As long as I can stay out of the dirt and stay healthy, who knows how many this will get up to."
But it is getting tougher, he said.
"I'm still trying to compete, and there's this endless supply of 50‑year old rookies that keep coming at you" he said. "It's like a treadmill, it just keeps coming and coming and coming. In this particular case, there's no on/off button, it just keeps coming. So I'm going to try to stay on that treadmill as long as I can."
Congratulations, and good luck at the SAS.