Tiger Woods has played in 13 professional events during his
illustrious amateur career, but the Stanford sophomore turned
heads last week when he accepted sponsors' exemptions to play in
the Greater Milwaukee Open and in the Quad City Classic in Coal
Valley, Ill., in September. The PGA Tour events follow the U.S.
Amateur, at which Woods will bid for an unprecedented third
consecutive championship, and the announcement that he would
play them fueled speculation that he will turn professional and
forgo his final two years of college eligibility.
Woods, who has won eight of the 25 events he has played for
Stanford, is the prohibitive favorite to win his first
individual NCAA title later this month at The Honors Course in
Ooltewah, Tenn. Some say that an NCAA title coupled with another
Amateur crown would mean Woods has nothing left to accomplish as
an amateur. As a professional he could try to win enough money
in late season events to earn his Tour card without having to
attend qualifying school.
Woods, however, might have simpler motives for playing in the
Tour events. Because he has had little success in professional
tournaments--he has made only four cuts, and his best finish is
a 41st at the 1995 Masters--he might be using the events to see
how much work his game needs.
Phil Mickelson had even more success as an amateur than Woods,
winning the 1990 Amateur, three individual NCAA titles and a
full-field PGA Tour event, the 1991 Northern Telecom Open. He
faced many of the same seductions as Woods, but he graduated
from Arizona State before joining the Tour full time in 1993. "I
don't regret staying for four years at all," Mickelson said last
Friday. "Those were the greatest four years of my life."
It hasn't hurt his golf game either. On Sunday the 25-year-old
Mickelson won his eighth Tour event, the GTE Byron Nelson Classic.
Playing Milwaukee and Quad City was the idea of Woods's father,
Earl. The tournaments fall in the window between the Amateur and
the start of classes at Stanford. "I don't know what he's going
to do [about turning pro]," Earl said on Sunday from his home in
Cypress, Calif. "The decision will rest with him. But I tell you
this, I'll be planting arguments against any scenario he might
come up with that doesn't call for him staying in school."
How about this scenario, Earl? Tiger wins at Milwaukee or Quad
City as an amateur, thus securing a two-year PGA Tour exemption.
THE ELY BALL
Callaway Golf is getting into the golf ball business. On Monday
the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company announced it has hired Taylor
Made president Chuck Yash to head the new Callaway Golf Ball
Company. It was Yash who put Taylor Made back on the golf
equipment map with the introduction of the Burner Bubble
metalwoods and irons.
Don't be surprised if Callaway teams with an existing ball
manufacturer. Given that Titleist and Spalding account for 70%
of the $1 billion domestic annual ball business, Callaway would
face long odds going it alone. Spalding and Wilson are for sale,
and Yash was vice president and general manager of Spalding's
golf division before leaving for Taylor Made in 1992.
Globe-trotting has caught up with Fred Couples and his
troublesome back. Couples will make only one more trip overseas
in 1996: for the British Open and a Shell's Wonderful World of
Golf exhibition against Greg Norman. And he'll make that trip
with his physical therapist, Tom Boers, in tow.
Among other things that means Couples will skip going to Cape
Town, South Africa, for the World Cup, an event he has won a
record four consecutive times with partner Davis Love III.
"These trips are killing me," Couples said last Friday at the
Nelson after missing his first cut in 13 events dating back to
the 1995 U.S. Open. "Golf is not the problem. It's the other
stuff--the flights and the cocktail parties and the dinners."
In the first four months of '96 Couples traveled to Singapore,
the United Arab Emirates and Japan. His back tightened on the
flight back from playing at the Chunichi Crowns in Aichi, Japan,
last month, and he played in pain at the Nelson, his first
appearance since returning home.
Short-game guru Dave Pelz received instant credibility for his
World Putting Championship last week when 80 Tour
pros--including Couples, Mickelson and Payne
Stewart--participated in a qualifier at the TPC at Four Seasons
Resort, site of the Nelson. Loren Roberts won it, but like most
of the big-name players who competed, he had reservations about
taking part. Funny how a $250,000 first prize can change a
Roberts and 20 other Tour pros will join players from the LPGA,
Senior, Nike and foreign tours as well as qualifiers from the
club professional and amateur ranks in the finals in November.
Roberts fears the fallout if he should lose to "some Joe
Schimolinsky from Chicago," so it took some arm-twisting by his
caddie, Dan Stojak, to persuade him to compete. "I told him that
Joe Schimolinsky never had to face a three-foot downhill slider
to win $250,000," says Stojak.
THE SHORT GAME
Muffin Spencer-Devlin made her first cut in nine events this
year at the LPGA Championship, but life has been anything but
easy for the player who recently announced she is a lesbian (SI,
March 18). A manic-depressive, Spencer-Devlin has been
struggling so with her emotions over the past two months that
she has been unable to give interviews. After the LPGA she flew
to the West Coast for a week of rest and relaxation that will
culminate with her weekend marriage to musician-composer Lynda
Roth.... Golf Channel executives deny they are entertaining an
offer from ESPN. "They may be talking about buying us, but we're
not talking about selling," says senior vice president Bob
Greenway.... In his first event as a pro, 22-year-old British
Amateur champion Gordon Sherry finished 17th at the Scottish
PGA.... Bob Drum, the Pittsburgh Press golf writer who
discovered Arnold Palmer as a high school phenom and chronicled
his early career, died on May 9 of heart failure at age 78....
Ian Baker-Finch's troubles continued at the Nelson. Baker-Finch
lost a ball and picked up on the 4th hole of the Wednesday
pro-am. Tour officials instructed scorers to give him no less
than a double bogey on each of the remaining 14 holes. Although
he shot 32 on the back nine, Baker-Finch was credited with a 106
for the 18-hole round. Two days later he missed his 34th
straight Tour cut.
COLOR PHOTO: KEN GEIGER Woods is reluctant to turn pro because like Mickelson before him, he's having a blast in college. [Tiger Woods]
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Wear and tear on his back drove Couples to reconsider his overseas schedule for the rest of 1996. [Fred Couples]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Roberts got pumped up by the putting prize. [Loren Roberts]