THE PRICE OF FAME
For Nick Price, last year seemed as if it would never end. When
the season did conclude, he reflected on how he had handled
being the No. 1 player in the world. Poorly, he decided. Now he
says things will change.
They certainly will start differently. In 1995, Price was coming
off a year during which he had seven wins, including the British
Open and the PGA Championship. He was on the verge of signing a
$25 million endorsement deal and had just moved into a mansion
next to Greg Norman's in Hobe Sound, Fla. He was also starting
to struggle with all the demands that went along with his
status. Price quickly lost his No. 1 ranking to Norman, played
poorly in the majors and did not win in the U.S. for the first
time since 1990.
"I hadn't managed my time very well," Price now admits. "I made
a lot of mistakes, which hopefully I can rectify this year."
Price makes his 1996 U.S. debut this week at the Doral-Ryder
Open, as the Tour begins its Florida swing, and claims to be
happier and hungrier. He's encouraged by the fact that he closed
out 1995 with a couple of victories, in the Hassan II Trophy in
Morocco and the Zimbabwe Open--"Those may not be the
highest-profile tournaments," he says, "but a win's a win"--and
started this year with a second-place finish (despite a pulled
stomach muscle) in a South African event.
Price bristles when people say that those back-to-back money and
Player of the Year titles in 1993-94 were too much for him to
handle. "That's not true at all," he says. "The only thing that
I lost was control of my own time. All things being equal, I
want to get back to that situation. I think I'll be able to
handle it a lot better."
Price has consulted with Norman on how to deal with success and
claims his backslide was educational. Not that he really flunked
the 1995 season. After all, Price earned more than $1.2 million
worldwide, his stroke average tied for third best on the Tour,
and he placed first in overall driving. Still, his performance
did not come close to meeting expectations. Will we ever again
see the Nick Price of 1994? Maybe not, but Price thinks the 1996
model will be a beauty. "I'm looking forward to this year
because my life has returned to normality," he says. "The
hardest thing is going through the period I did, but, hey, if
that's a bad year, I'll take it."
Tom Watson took hits from all sides last week for failing to
name names after being quoted by the Australian AP as saying
that players cheat on the Tour. The very fact that someone as
painfully honest as Watson didn't identify the culprits should
have been a tip-off that there was more to the story than made
the wire. At a dinner before the Australian Masters, Watson,
along with John Daly and Ian Baker-Finch, fielded questions
posed by two TV commentators. When asked about last year's Mark
McCumber-Greg Norman incident at the NEC World Series, Watson
said, "There is no question that people cheat on the PGA Tour."
Watson claims the remark was misinterpreted. "I didn't want to
give the impression that the Tour was rife with cheating," he
said on Sunday from his home outside of Kansas City, Kans. "The
Tour is generally clean, but over its history there have been
instances of people not playing by the rules. I apologize if
that was taken as a general indictment. As my wife said, 'You
opened your mouth and inserted your foot in it again.'"
SEVE 1, KITE 0
It didn't take Seve Ballesteros long to get one over on the U.S.
Named captain of the European Ryder Cup team only last week,
Ballesteros declared his intention to play his way onto the
side, much the way U.S. captain Tom Kite hopes to do. The
difference is that Seve worked out an arrangement that gives him
a third wild-card pick if he qualifies but decides not to play.
The U.S. captain gets only two picks, so if Kite qualifies then
decides not to play, the 11th player off the points list goes to
Valderrama in 1997.
Kite doesn't view Ballesteros's maneuver as an advantage. "I
don't have any problem with that," he says. Not yet, anyway.
Meg Mallon's win in last week's Cup Noodles Hawaiian Open was
her first in almost three years, but it was overshadowed by the
performance of rookie Karrie Webb, the 21-year-old from
Australia who finished a stroke behind in second. "She played
like a veteran," said Mallon. "I need to take advantage of the
times when I can beat her because it won't happen often."
Webb has finished an unprecedented second-first-second in her
first three LPGA events and leads the money list with $196,855.
The record for earnings by a rookie is $262,115 by Helen
Alfredsson in 1992. "I'm just going to ride the wave as long as
I can," says Webb.
THE SHORT GAME
Jose Maria Olazabal, who hasn't played in a tournament in seven
months, hopes that having his tonsils removed will cure the
rheumatoid arthritis in his right foot, which doctors say was
caused by an infection somewhere else in his body.... One of
golf's more humiliating streaks ended last week near Sydney when
1991 British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch made the cut, his
first in 16 months, in the Canon Challenge.... Hale Irwin's
five-stroke win in the American Express Invitational, worth
$135,000, established him as the senior who has won $1 million
the fastest.... A senior version of the Ryder Cup could be
played as early as 1998, but it probably won't be Europe versus
the U.S., as proposed by the European tour. The PGA of America,
the Tour and TV insist that a match between the U.S. and an
all-world team is the only way this baby will fly.
It's good work, and if you're a big-name pro, you can get as
much of it as you want. We're talking about one-day corporate
outings, the gigs that Dave Stockton, among others, used as a
primary source of income. It's easy money: You blow into town on
the day of the outing, put on a clinic out on the range or maybe
stand on the tee of a par-3 hole and hit a shot with every group
that comes through, then schmooze during a cocktail party,
impart a few words of wisdom and get outta there. Of course, not
all pros are created equal. Here's the top day rate for a
sampling of players, according to their agents.
Call now. He does only about two per year.
The King's a steal compared with Nicklaus.
An Ashworth shirt is not included.
The Stare can smile if the price is right.
His fee went up $20K after he won the U.S. Open.
Lefty throws in a demo of the Phil Phlop shot.
Depending on his mood, he could be the best buy.
Just don't offer advice on how to make the short ones.
You get to pick his brain about his captain's picks.
He's cheaper on the West Coast and at Pebble.
And you get all the imitations.
Mr. Pro-Am will put you in the comfort zone.
He'll give you the inside poop on the Tour players.
He works at it and is one of the best.
He'll happily give short-game lessons.
The double money leader doubled her price.
Has hats, will travel.
Even from the tips, she'll blow it past most men.
He'll be making Mickelson money someday.
This piddly sum will be going up soon.
This is what your average Nike tour grad commands.
He's right out of college and needs the money.
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [Nick Price]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Webb is taking aim at an LPGA rookie record. [Karrie Webb]