ARNIE'S A MAN ON A MISSION
Sun was flooding through the clubhouse windows at eight o'clock
on Monday morning when Arnold Palmer sat down to breakfast in
the grill room of the Bay Hill Club in Orlando. For a man who
had surgery for prostate cancer less than two weeks earlier, he
looked remarkably fit, if a trifle wan.
Breakfast over, Palmer walked gingerly upstairs to his office,
where he was greeted by Prince, his golden retriever, who was
playing with a chew toy. Palmer growled at him, then plunked
himself down behind his desk, on which there were stacks of
mail. "This is about a quarter of the stuff, maybe less," he
said. "That box over there on the floor is full. There's a box
just as large at home. All of this is, of course, very
gratifying and touching."
The 67-year-old Palmer had given his first postop interview
three days earlier and had taped another that ABC showed during
its coverage of the Senior Skins Game, an event he had been
scheduled to play in. "We had hundreds of people wanting to
talk, and I couldn't accommodate them individually," he said.
"I'm doing what the doctors asked me to do--taking it easy. I
expect to play in the Masters unless I have a setback, and the
only thing that would set me back is overdoing it now."
Since returning from the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.,
Palmer's daily routine has involved a couple of hours in his
office, perhaps a little putting and plenty of rest. "I do get
tired," he admitted.
There was a second reason for holding the press conference. "I
want to have the media tell men to have their prostates
examined, not just digitally, but to have PSAs [a blood test]. I
can't say that strongly enough," he said. "I was just a victim,
so I can only express what the doctors have told me, but so much
has happened in the last three weeks, I want to make sure people
do this. It can save their lives."
SPYGLASS FACELIFT COULD BE CRITICAL THIS WEEK
Spyglass Hill, where the 16th fairway became a rice paddy during
last year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, forcing the
cancellation of the tournament after 36 holes, has been given a
pricey facelift but not by the course's architect, Robert Trent
Jones, who is none too happy about the surgery.
The Pebble Beach Company says the disaster was a blessing, that
it accelerated improvements to Spyglass that might not have been
made for years. The company's Japanese owners forked out nearly
$2.8 million for course changes. The 16th fairway was resoiled
with six inches of sand and sloped left to right to improve
drainage and prevent good drives from rolling out-of-bounds. The
green, often criticized for being too small to hold approach
shots, was enlarged. The pond fronting the green at the 11th,
another hole turned quagmire last year, was removed. These
changes will be sorely tested if the heavy rain that forced
cancellation of practice on Monday continues. But Paul Spengler,
vice president of Pebble Beach, is optimistic. "What we've done
has improved the course substantially," says Spengler.
And that has Jones, 93, moaning. Miffed that another designer,
Tom Fazio, oversaw the alterations, Jones has a question for
Spengler. "Why," he asks, "did you spend a fortune to ruin a
NICHOLS TO PUT NEW TI HIPS AND CLUBS TO THE TEST
Bobby Nichols, the 1964 PGA champion, holds the distinction of
being the only player on the Senior tour with nine titanium
irons and two titanium hips. A year ago Nichols had his right
hip replaced, but after he resumed playing, his left hip began
to give him trouble, so in July he had it replaced too. Nichols
says the hips and the new clubs--Armour Ti 100s--feel wonderful,
and he plans to test both in this week's Royal Caribbean Classic.
THE EUROPEAN TOUR GETS OFF TO A SHAKY START
Nothing better describes the chaos on the European tour than the
fact that it began its 1997 season last week in Queensland,
Australia, with a win by a South African, Ernie Els, who plays
most of his golf in the U.S. Times are so bad on the tour that
last October a group of players called for commissioner Ken
Schofield's resignation. Schofield survived, but he may wish he
hadn't. Purses are stagnant, tournaments are being played at
inferior courses, and many of the tour's stars are more olden
Even Schofield admits this could be a make-or-break year for the
tour, calling it "a challenge for us all." His biggest problem
is one he can't control: time. The average age of the core group
of players on the tour--Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard
Langer, Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam--is 39. Last
year Langer, Lyle and Torrance failed to win, finishing 39th,
128th and 22nd on the money list, respectively. For the second
straight year, Faldo will play full time in the U.S. and will
play only a handful of tournaments on the European tour.
As for new blood, there are several strong up-and-comers, but
none are as promising as the top young Americans. Last season
six Europeans with an average age of 25 finished among the top
14 on the money list, and all are in the top 10 in Ryder Cup
points. This group includes England's Lee Westwood, 23, who won
once and finished sixth in earnings, and Thomas Bjorn, 25, a
Dane who as a rookie finished 10th on the Order of Merit with a
victory at Loch Lomond.
In areas the commissioner should be able to control--purses and
course conditions--Schofield hasn't made progress. Tour
officials scrutinized every tournament venue during the
off-season, but courses of questionable quality, including the
Madeira golf club, site of the Madeira Island Open, remain on
the schedule. And one of the new venues, Hanbury Manor, which
will host the Alamo English Open this year, is being roundly
criticized. The average tournament purse is down $10,000 from
1996, to $600,000. And the tour has 34 tournaments on the '97
schedule, one fewer than it had in '96.
If things in Europe (or wherever the tour plays--it will make
stops in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco
before reaching the Continent in mid-March) don't improve soon,
the trickle of players leaving Europe to play in the U.S. could
become a flood. "At the start of the 1990s the gap between the
European and U.S. tours was quite small, but now it's growing
all the time," says Els, who beat Peter Lonard and Michael Long
by a stroke in last week's Johnnie Walker Classic after Long
assessed himself a one-shot penalty when his ball moved on the
15th green. "They need to watch out in Europe. The standards in
American golf are going through the roof, and the big question
is, How will Europe respond?"
THE SHAG BAG
Tiger Woods got headlines, but Steve Stricker got a $38,000
Oldsmobile Aurora for acing the 16th hole during the Phoenix
Open because his hole in one came on Sunday....Woods recently
purchased a $450,000 house in a San Francisco suburb for Royce
Woods, his 38-year-old stepsister....The Thunderbirds, the
invitation-only, 55-member branch of the Phoenix Chamber of
Commerce that runs the Phoenix Open, have never had a female
member in their 65-year history. "It is the tradition that we do
not have women," says Greg Mast, who served as this year's
tournament chairman....Notable Senior tour rookies making their
debuts this week: Bob Duval, father of David Duval; Will Sowles,
lifelong amateur and former salesman for the Ore-Ida potato
company; Dan Wood, who coached three soccer teams in the defunct
NASL....Goldwin Golf signed Nick Price to a six-year, $2
million-per-year endorsement deal....A set of President Dwight
D. Eisenhower's Spalding clubs, containing four woods and nine
forged irons, will be sold, either privately or at auction, by
All Time Great Productions of Columbus, Ohio.
COLOR PHOTO: BEN VAN HOOK Palmer has been busy keeping up with his mail in the weeks since his surgery. [Arnold Palmer at desk]
FIVE COLOR PHOTOS: BEN VAN HOOK [Instant Golf Net; Caddy Carry-on; wooden golf clubs; Big Bertha golf clubs; rain vest]
NEAT STUFF FOR THE NEW YEAR
In business, good ideas are like annual flowers--planted in one
season to bloom in another. In the golf business, the cycle of
invention climaxes every January with the PGA Merchandise Show
in Orlando. Last week, golf's awesome tulip festival attracted
50,000 exhibitors and buyers to the Orange County Convention
Center, where, as usual, most of the buzz centered on new
products and breakthrough technologies. Some of the stuff came
from sophisticated R&D departments. Some, with sandpaper lines
still showing, emerged from home workshops. And more than a few
wacky ideas looked as if they were developed by Wile E. Coyote's
favorite supplier, Acme Inc.
With no particular bias toward any of these three sources, here
is our pick of the most intriguing golf products offered at this
year's show. (Please handle by the stems only.)
The Instant Golf Net ($140, JC International), when released,
pops up like a cartoon tent. But unlike a tent, this practice
net gives the bored golfer something to do on those summer
jaunts through Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
Got time to practice but not to play? The Caddy Carry-On
($39.95, Caddy Company) holds five clubs and fits in airplanes'
overhead bins. The Executive model is fleece-lined with a
detachable ball pouch.
No railers or airfoils mar the classic profile of Ping's ISI
Tour perimeter-weighted, small-headed, laminated fairway woods
($225 each, Karsten Manufacturing), but the picture-window
soleplate is an eye-catcher.
Whatever's new from Callaway is big by definition. The titanium
Biggest Big Bertha ($600) is 20% larger than 1995's Great Big
Bertha (middle), and 55% bigger than the original Big Bertha
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Kite was first in line to order rain
gear from Zero Restriction--the rain in Spain, and all that. The
Tour Lite rain vest ($150) shown here is also popular with
Senior tour players.
The skins Ray Floyd collected in the last five Senior Skins
Games, an event he's won four straight years and in which he has
earned a record $1.17 million.