INTO THE CLOWN'S MOUTH
For the past eight years, a golf outing called the Tournament Players Championship has been grandly declaring itself a major event while much of the public has been busy stifling yawns, thereby proving it's tough to become a major championship by self-proclamation. But what the latest TPC, a rain-delayed tournament completed on March 23 at Saw-grass near Jacksonville, further demonstrated was even more illuminating, namely, that the PGA Tour isn't going to have much luck trying to cure its ills with gimmickry and hype.
The game's woes are real enough. Because of mounting greens fees and a sharp decline in caddying opportunities, golf has had difficulty attracting younger participants, leaving the sport very much the province of a relatively small number of older, mostly affluent folk. And the PGA Tour, with its shortage of colorful personalities, has had difficulty attracting new fans. No wonder TV coverage has been shrinking and sponsors have been falling all over themselves trying to induce the sport's few big names to play in their tournaments. Developments at Sawgrass suggest, however, that it might be better just to ride out the hard times than to resort to some of the desperate measures tried so far.
Take the unprecedented windfall reaped by Raymond Floyd in winning the TPC. To attract the strongest possible fields, tournament promoters have lately been joining forces to offer improbable monetary incentives. For example, sponsors of the TPC and two earlier Florida events, the Inverrary Classic and the Doral Open, combined to offer bonuses to anybody winning all three events ($500,000), any two of the events successively ($250,000), or the first and third of them ($100,000). Enter Floyd, who had won the Doral the week before the TPC. By then winning the TPC, he pocketed not only $72,000 in first-prize money (his purse at the Doral was $45,000) but also the $250,000 bonus, thereby enjoying far and away the biggest payday in golf history.
Though the bonus delighted Floyd, it didn't do much for golf. Duke Butler, executive director of the Houston Golf Association, which refused to let its tournament, the Houston Open, join with the Byron Nelson Classic and Colonial National Invitation in a similar bonus scheme in Texas last spring, says, "I think gimmicks hurt golf, and this is certainly a gimmick." Butler believes that golf is a good enough game to stand on its own, and he may have a point. To win the TPC, Floyd dramatically came from six strokes back to force a playoff, in which he beat Barry Jaeckel, who had led after the second and third rounds, and Curtis Strange. But because of the fuss over all that loot, the circumstances of Floyd's exciting victory were obscured.
Another dubious innovation at the TPC was the introduction of new computerized scoreboards that were generous with biographical info and promotional messages—SUPPORT JUNIOR GOLF—but stingy about dispensing such incidental intelligence as who was leading the tournament, prompting one player, Jim Simons, to lament, "Every time I looked at the board I kept finding out how tall I was." Other players grumbled about the new course across the road from Sawgrass that, starting next year, will host the TPC and serve as the PGA Tour's home layout. The greens are too small and cute for their own good—the 17th green is literally an island—and may wind up producing better wisecracks than golf, the best so far being by Miller Barber. He told the architect, Pete Dye, "I want to congratulate you on a magnificent golf course. It's just sensational. When are you going to put the greens in?" Chimes in Jay Haas, "I wonder if anyone has hit one in the clown's mouth yet." Jack Nicklaus, himself a golf-course architect, tried defending Dye's handiwork over dinner one evening with Tom Watson by suggesting that the course could be made more playable with some routine, if costly, revisions. Watson's reply seemed to reflect the frustration rampant in pro golf these days: "Why in the world can't these things be done right the first time?"
Since 1961, Chick Hearn has been entertaining Los Angeles Laker fans with his distinctive run-and-gun delivery as the club's broadcaster on radio and TV. Hearn became so popular that an antenna had to be installed on the Forum's roof to allow doting Angelenos to tune him in on transistor radios while attending games, just as they insist on listening to Vin Scully while watching the Dodgers. Two weeks ago, to commemorate his 20th anniversary as the Laker broadcaster, Hearn was honored at halftime ceremonies attended by former Laker stars Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and owner Jerry Buss, who read greetings from President Reagan and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley. A highlight of the festivities came when actress Angie Dickinson presented Hearn with a popcorn maker in recognition of a favorite expression of his: "He faked his man into the popcorn machines."
That's just one of Hearn's many colorful contributions to the basketball idiom. Hearn is credited with originating such expressions as "air ball," "finger roll," "throwing up a prayer," "no harm, no foul" and "dribble drive." He has also helped popularize "slam dunk," "unanswered points" and "fallaway jumper." And he gets chuckles from listeners by telling them things like, "The Lakers are moving left to right across your radio dial." Other Chickisms:
The mustard fell off the hot dog. Translation: somebody has just committed a mistake caused by excessive showboating.
Frozen rope. Metaphor for an arcless shot, also used in baseball to refer to line drives.
Like a motorcycle in a motordrome. That's a shot that rolls, seemingly forever, around the rim.
Yo-yoing. What Oscar Robertson, for example, used to do with the ball while dribbling.
Hard though it is to believe, Hearn swears that his best lines usually occur to him during the frantic action of games. "The only way expressions are any good is if they come spontaneously," he says. "You can't write them down or plan them. The key for me is to be able to visualize them from other things in life. They're just things that pop out of my big Irish mouth."
ONCE A SPEED MERCHANT...
The Seattle Mariners were playing the San Diego Padres in an exhibition game in Yuma, Ariz. last week when, in the seventh inning, Mariner Manager Maury Wills left to catch a flight that enabled him to spend some time at his suburban Los Angeles house before rejoining the club in Palm Springs, Calif. for a game against the California Angels. Trouble was, Wills neglected to clear his early departure with Mariner President Dan O'Brien, who later chided the erstwhile base-running whiz for his hasty exit. The Los Angeles Times reported the incident in a story that carried just the right headline: WILLS REPRIMANDED FOR STEALING HOME.
MORE THAN A GAME
In 33 years of coaching Missouri high school basketball, Ray DeGreeff won 634 games, putting him among the winningest coaches in the state's history. But DeGreeff never achieved what he described as his chief goal: making it to the final four of the state tournament. This year DeGreeff's school, St. Francis Borgia High of Washington, Mo., where he coached the last 27 years, finally realized that objective, reaching the state 3A final before losing to Chillicothe 58-49. However, DeGreeff didn't live to see it. He was stricken with cancer early last year, was replaced as coach three months ago by assistant Steve Ruether and died at the age of 63 on the morning of the victory over Bowling Green High that put Borgia into the final four.
The win over Bowling Green, at the time the state's top-ranked 3A team, was one to remember. Borgia never led in regulation time and trailed 73-64 with barely a minute left but stormed back to tie Bowling Green 73-73. After the first overtime the score was 75-75. It was 83-83 after the second overtime, but only because Bowling Green missed two free throws in the waning seconds. The game remained tied, 87-87, after overtime No. 3 and so on through Nos. 4 and 5, with Bowling Green blowing other chances to win. Borgia finally pulled ahead in the sixth OT and as the last 30 seconds of its 111-107 victory ticked away, the outcome at last settled, a spine-tingling chant resounded from the Borgia rooters: "Coach DeGreeff.... Coach DeGreeff.... Coach DeGreeff."
It was an emotional occasion, at once jubilant and sad, that even the losing coach found inspirational. "With the death of their coach and all those overtimes, this was more than a game—it was spooky," said Bowling Green's Tom Barr. The winning coach, Ruether, spoke movingly of his predecessor. Noting that DeGreeff was a pillar of the community who, in addition to coaching basketball, had taught business and phys ed and had headed the local Soap Box Derby, Ruether said, "Believe it or not, I knew we were going to win, even when we were nine points down, even through six overtimes. The spirit of the man was right here with us."
What with all the hardship it has caused, we're happy to report that the nationwide drought has also had one or two salutary effects. Dr. Herb Austin, a fisheries oceanographer at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, notes that with the shortage of rainfall there has been a sharp reduction in the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, sewage, oil and other pollutants being washed into Chesapeake Bay. This is good news, especially if it turns out that such contaminants have contributed to the recent worrisome decline in the Bay's fish populations (SCORECARD, March 30). Nor is this the only blessing the drought has bestowed on the eastern seaboard. Because the inflow from rivers into North Carolina's sounds is far below normal levels, ocean tides now extend farther than usual into those estuaries, increasing the salinity on which many shellfish thrive and thus giving new life to shrimp beds that have not always been productive in recent years. The resulting bonanza of harvest-able shrimp proves that even rainless clouds have silver linings.
You're all familiar with Dr. J, but what about Dr. C? He's Denton Cooley, the renowned Houston heart surgeon. A varsity basketball player during his undergraduate days at Texas, Cooley made a $750,000 donation, through his Denton A. Cooley Foundation, toward construction of a $2.6 million athletic complex at Johns Hopkins Medical School, from which he graduated in 1944. In Baltimore for dedication of the facility, called the Denton A. Cooley Recreation Center and featuring a basketball court, two saunas and courts for racquetball and squash, Dr. C showed that he could still spin a basketball on one finger. Then the 6'4" surgeon ceremonially scored the first basket in the new gym—a vintage 20-foot, one-hand push shot.
THEY SAID IT
•Harry Neale, Vancouver Canucks' coach, whose team continues to struggle in rival NHL arenas despite following a psychologist's recommendation that the players wear road uniforms designed to make themselves look more fearsome: "That psychologist is now seeing a psychiatrist."
•Mark Snow, a skinny, 6'10" New Mexico basketball player, assessing his talents in a speech to the school's booster club: "Strength is my biggest weakness."
•Jerry Tarkanian, Nevada-Las Vegas basketball coach, on how he prepares his team for games at Wyoming, where the elevation is 7,165 feet: "I try to tell our guys that the altitude isn't that bad because we're playing indoors."
•Al Clark, American League umpire, explaining why he refers to the Detroit Tigers' manager as George Anderson: "I refuse to call a 47-year-old man Sparky."
•Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinal broadcaster, after catching a glimpse of George Steinbrenner's yacht on Tampa Bay: "It was a beautiful thing to behold, with all 36 oars working in unison."