PGA Tour Champions History: How It’s Changed Over The Years

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The PGA Tour Champions history dates back to 1980 when the governing body formed the Senior PGA Tour.

Although it was formed in 1980, the 1978 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf championship paved the way for the Tour. The popularity of the event highlighted a demand for fans to see their legends play beyond their retirement age.

Golf historians will want to read on to educate yourself on the evolution of the PGA Tour Champions from its formation to its current structure with the Charles Schwab Cup.

PGA TOUR Champions collage of Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer and Caddie, and Pride hitting out of a bunker.

Overview of the PGA Tour Champions History

1937 – Inaugural Senior PGA Championship

The inaugural Senior PGA Championship teed off in December 1937, becoming the only competitive event for golfers over 50. Augusta National played host to the first two editions of the event before organizers moved further south to Sarasota to avoid rain delays experienced in Georgia.

Although the official formation of the PGA Tour Champions was still five decades out, this event got the wheels turning.

1978 – Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Success

In 1978, the first Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament teed off at Onion Creek Country in the City of the Violet Crown, Austin, Texas. The event saw legends joining forces in two ball teams and battling it out against a field of golf royalty featuring Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, and Lee Trevino.

The success of the event among fans and players alike was the push needed to form the Senior PGA Tour.

1980 – Senior PGA Tour Established

Following the success of the Legends of Golf Tournament, the Senior PGA Tour was officially formed in 1980. The 1967 PGA Championship winner, Don January, topped the money list in the inaugural year, a feat he would repeat twice more, back to back in 1983 and 1984.

Miller Barber won in 1981 and 1982, making him and January the dominant forces in the early years of the Tour.

1990 – Charles Schwab Cup Formation

The Senior PGA Tour saw its first grand evolution in 1990 when it created the Charles Schwab Cup. Originally, the event was the New York Life Champions tournament before rebranding to the PGA Senior Championship, with numerous title sponsors from 1992 to 2002.

In 2003, Charles Schwab took over as title sponsor, and the final event of the season became the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. 

From its inception in 1990 until 2015, the top 30 on the money list for the season earned an invite to a no-cut final event. However, the tour officials changed tactics in 2016 and opted for a FedEx Cup-style three-tournament playoff. 

The Playoffs Structure

The top 72 players on the money list gain entry to the playoffs. The Dominion Energy Charity Classic is first up, where the top 54 players qualify for the Simmons Bank Championship. After round two of the playoffs, the best 36 players move on to battle it out for the Charles Schwab Cup.

Despite the similarities to the FedEx Cup, the points system differs. The winner of the Charles Schwab Cup will not necessarily top the money list. For example, Padraig Harrington won the Cup in 2022, but Steve Alker topped the money list.

2002 – PGA Champions Tour Name Change

The Tour body decided to switch the tour name to a more deserving title that honored the work of its members. After carrying the name of the Senior PGA Tour for 22 years, it changed to the Champions Tour post-October 2002 and kept the brand until changing it once more in 2015.

2015 – PGA Tour Champions Name Change

Operating for 13 years under the PGA Champions Tour had seen significant growth in tournaments and prize money. However, it was decided to rebrand for the third time in the Tour’s history, this time changing to the PGA Tour Champions, which is how it remains at the time of writing this.

PGA Champions Tour All-Time Money List

Bernhard Langer has earned more than any other golfer on the PGA Tour Champions, amassing over 35 million dollars. This is significantly more than the second-placed Hale Irwin. There is a wide gap between Irwin and third-place Gil Morgan, who won over 20 million dollars in his career.

Here is a breakdown of the top 10 earners of all time on the Seniors Tour.

1Bernhard Langer$35,989,514
2Hale Irwin$27,158,515
3Gil Morgan$20,631,930
4Jay Haas$19,898,030
5Tom Kite$16,303,747
6Tom Watson$15,074,227
7Dana Quigley$14,898,463
8Larry Nelson$14,637,172
9Jim Thorpe$13,936,083
10Miguel Angel Jiménez$13,898,558

PGA Tour Champions Fun Facts 2024

What famous golfer never played in the senior tour?

LIV Golf CEO and two-time Major Champion Greg Norman has never played on the PGA Senior Tour, even though he is eligible. He saw the PGA Tour Champions as “ceremonial golf” and, after competing fiercely for decades, felt it did not offer the competitive edge of the main tours.

Did any golfers ever succeed on the Champions Tour without playing in the PGA Tour?

Yes, Mike Goodes succeeded on the Champions Tour without playing on the PGA Tour. In fact, Goodes only went pro when he turned 50. He has featured 282 times on the PGA Tour Champions and conjured up $6,234,722 in career earnings. Plus, he won the 2009 Allianz Championship.

Who played in the PGA tour and didn’t stand out until the Tour Champions?

Steven Alker played on the PGA Tour in 2003 but failed to retain his card. Since joining the PGA Tour Champions in 2021, the Kiwi has played in 38 events, won 6 times, finished 2nd on seven occasions, and 3rd six times. Therefore, he has finished in the top 3 in 21 of 38 outings.

How do you qualify for the PGA Tour Champions?

Professionals can qualify for the PGA Tour Champions through past wins on the PGA Tour. Alternatively, a top 5 finish at the previous season’s PGA Tour Champions National Qualifying tournament will get you on the tour for the year.

PGA Tour veterans can qualify if they have earned 5 PGA Tour points in their career. A single point is assigned for winning a regular tournament, while a Major counts for 3 points.

Besides becoming a full-time tour member, golfers can qualify for individual events by carding one of the four lowest scores for that week. In addition, there are sponsor exemptions and tournament invitations awarded occasionally.

Popular qualifying methods:

  • Top 54 on the money list the previous year
  • 5 PGA Tour points (Tournament victory = 1, Major = 3)
  • 5 PGA Tour champions points (Tournament victory = 1, Major = 2)
  • Top 10 players on the all-time money list
  • Top 5 players from PGA Tour Champions National Qualifying 
  • Invitation by organizers or players

Frequently Asked Questions

Who has the most wins in Champions Tour history?

Bernhard Langer has 46 Champions Tour wins, which is the most in the history of the tour. He overtook Hale Irwin when he won the 2023 U.S. Senior Open.

What is the difference between the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions?

The PGA Tour consists of golfers under 50, while the PGA Tour Champions is for golfers over 50.

How much money has Bernhard Langer made on the Champions Tour?

Bernhard Langer has made $35,989,514 on the Champions Tour since joining in 2007. He is the highest earner of all-time on the PGA Tour Champions ahead of Hale Irwin with $27,158,515.

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Matt Callcott-Stevens has lived and breathed golf since he was four. As a junior, he played competitively, until he discovered his talents were better suited to writing about the game. Matt holds a Postgraduate in Sports Marketing through the Johan Cruyff Institute in Barcelona and has provided golf game improvement tips to seniors and the average golfer for seven years.


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