Do the math.
They are the Masters. You are the South Carolina Classic.
They've got Phil Mickelson. You've got Phil Tataurangi.
They've got Magnolia Lane. You've got the road beside the Citgo.
They've got a tradition of excellence. You've got ... Phil
No wonder Dick Baker, the tournament director of the Nike South
Carolina Classic, felt somewhat dyspeptic last week about the
fact that his golf tournament occupied the same dates on the
calendar as the Masters. After all, it's no coincidence that
neither the Senior PGA Tour nor the LPGA tour dared to schedule
an event last week. So what exactly was the Nike tour thinking
when it rescheduled its annual stop in Florence, S.C., just 130
miles from Augusta National, from May to Masters week? "My
initial reaction to the plan was a major case of heartburn,"
Baker admits. "Let's just say we weren't worried about stealing
away thunder from the Masters. Some people were afraid we might
throw a party and nobody would show up."
The South Carolina Classic's most obvious concern was that the
entire golf world would be overcome by the spell that briefly
befuddled Tim Simpson. A native of Atlanta, Simpson found
himself driving east on I-20 last Wednesday afternoon when a
strong gravitational pull grabbed him. "I got near Augusta
National, and all of a sudden my Suburban wanted to exit right
there at Washington Road," said Simpson, one of 21 former
Masters invitees in the Nike field. "It was a weird feeling to
stay in the left lane and keep on driving to play in the South
The Classic's organizers must have questioned their sense as
well when, on the day the tournament started, there wasn't a
single mention of their event in The State, South Carolina's
largest newspaper. (There were, however, three full stories on
the Masters.) "I guess it's like the Doobie Brothers opening for
the Beatles," said Greg Twiggs, a Masters participant in '89 who
finished tied for 25th in Florence. "This tournament is a good
event, but it pales in the face of history."
In an attempt to attract a gallery--any gallery--to the Country
Club of South Carolina, the Classic promised up-to-the-minute
Masters updates on the course's five electronic leader boards.
Tee times in the Classic concluded before network coverage of
the Masters began, and fans were encouraged to stay at the club
and watch the Masters on four big-screen televisions in a
courtesy tent behind the clubhouse or on monitors in each of the
10 corporate boxes around the 18th green.
For their part most of the Nike players feigned ambivalence
toward "the other tournament," at least until 15 of them were
spotted in a local tavern Thursday evening watching a replay of
Greg Norman's opening-round 63. Nike tour member Bob Wolcott
actually attended the Wednesday practice round at Augusta, then
drove to Florence at 4:30 the next morning just in case an
alternate spot opened up in the Classic. When he learned at 2:30
p.m. that he was shut out, Wolcott returned to the Masters to
watch the end of the first round. "We'd be lying if we said the
Masters doesn't occupy the thoughts of everybody around here,"
said Jerry Foltz, the winner of the '95 Classic who missed the
cut this year. "Let's face it: I'm 33 years old, and I still
stand over a 12-footer on the practice green just like a little
kid pretending that it's a putt to win the Masters."
Mark Lye was about the closest thing to a Masters champion in
Florence. In '84 at Augusta, Lye held the lead at the start of
the final round but fell to sixth place. The only green jacket
he owns today is the aqua windbreaker he wears as a color
commentator for The Golf Channel. "O.K., so it's not the green
jacket," Lye said. "But in some ways it's better. Mine, you can
actually wear off the course, and it's waterproof."
Such is the new feisty attitude of the Nike tour, which has been
enervated recently by the impact of its alumni on the PGA Tour.
In fact, Nike tour expatriates won four of the last five events
leading up to the Masters. Paul Stankowski's victory at the
BellSouth Classic on April 7 occurred just one week after he won
the Nike Louisiana Open. Tommy Tolles, a winner on the Nike tour
in both 1993 and '94, ranks fifth on the PGA Tour money list.
Another Nike export, Scott McCarron, who got his invite to the
Masters by winning in New Orleans, tied for 10th in his first
appearance at Augusta.
All this positive publicity translated into surprising success
for the Classic. The event drew a tournament-record 14,000 fans
for the week, and the exclusivity of Augusta's guest list helped
produce the Classic's strongest-ever field. The winner was Dave
Rummells, who is fittingly a refugee from the PGA Tour.
(Tataurangi, a former PGA Tour player from New Zealand, tied for
Still, neither Rummells nor any other player at the Classic
wants to come back to Florence next year. They all have loftier
aspirations. As a mischievous teen Hugh Royer III sneaked onto
the Augusta National course through a gap in the fence beside
the 11th hole. Like all his Nike brethren, Royer believes that
he will someday enter those hallowed grounds as a Masters
competitor rather than as a trespasser. On Thursday evening he
joined several dozen players in a bass-fishing tournament,
angling to pocket an extra 250 bucks, the prize for catching the
largest bass. "It's no secret that everyone here would rather be
playing down the road in Augusta," said Royer. "We're all
dreaming of the moment we land the big one."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND The setting was classic, even if the Classic wasn't. [Two spectators watching golfer and caddy at Nike South Carolina Classic]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Frequent leader board updates let fans in Florence keep tabs on the masterly play elsewhere. [Spectators at Nike South Carolina Classic with leader board for Masters in background]