GIRL, 14, PLAYS IN LPGA EVENT
The LPGA already provides its players with courtesy cars, a
hairstylist and day care. Now the tour might have to hire some
chaperones. In January, Cristie Kerr, an 18-year-old fresh out
of high school, began her rookie season on the tour. Then last
week at the Longs Drugs Challenge, outside Sacramento, Natalie
Gulbis, 14 and a freshman at Granite Bay High in Roseville,
became the youngest person to make it into an LPGA field since
1980. The youngest ever was Beverly Klass, who in 1966 played in
a few LPGA events when she was 10.
Gulbis got into last week's event by finishing second in a
Monday qualifier, shooting a six-over-par 78, one stroke behind
Janice Moodie, the nation's second-ranked collegiate golfer and
a senior at San Jose State. There were only five other women in
the qualifying; normally there are about 20. "I never expected
something like this to happen so soon," Gulbis said. "No way."
Nor did she expect the avalanche of publicity that followed.
Gulbis spent half of Tuesday, all of Wednesday and a couple of
hours before her 1:24 p.m. tee time on Thursday giving
interviews. Once the tournament began, she had by far the
A two handicap, Gulbis is 5'6" and averages about 240 yards off
the tee. She is one of the top three players on Granite Bay's
boys' team and last summer was the runner-up in the California
Women's Amateur. Still, her game is rough around the edges, at
least when compared with those of the pros.
Last Thursday, Gulbis made a double- and a triple-bogey while
shooting a nine-over-par 81, and on Friday she took a
quadruple-bogey 8 on the way to an 84. She missed the cut by 13
shots but stayed around for the weekend to watch her idol,
Annika Sorenstam, win the tournament and presented her with
roses at the awards ceremony. The two played together three
years ago, during Sorenstam's rookie year, at a charity event in
nearby Rocklin. "What was she, 11 then?" asked Sorenstam, who
didn't remember the event.
Once Gulbis's Cinderella week ended, it was back to reality. On
Monday she started making up the week's worth of exams she
missed because of the tournament and played in a high school
match. "It was a nice experience and I hope to do it again," she
said, "but it's nice to have it over."
SORENSTAM IS ON TRACK TO MATCH WRIGHT'S RECORD
History--that is what Annika Sorenstam is playing for this
season. After beating Pamela Komentani in a playoff at the Longs
Drugs Challenge, Sorenstam has three wins, a second, a tie for
third, a tie for eighth and a 51st in seven starts in '97. If
Sorenstam plays in at least 24 more events and continues to win
at her current pace, she will challenge Mickey Wright's alltime
LPGA record of 13 victories in a season, set in 1963.
Sorenstam's hot streak is the best on the LPGA tour since Nancy
Lopez won five events in a row on her way to nine victories in
1978. And in July at the U.S. Open, Sorenstam could become the
first person to win three straight U.S. Opens since Willie
Anderson won the three men's titles from 1903 to 1905.
At Sunday's awards ceremony Sorenstam said she has overcome the
pressure she felt last year trying to live up to expectations
after winning her second Open. "The key is, I love to play golf
again," she said.
GOLF'S SPIKE WAR IS JOINED
MacNeill Engineering, long the leading manufacturer of metal
spikes, is scared stiff. For the first time in its 66-year
history, the Marlboro, Mass.-based company has hired a director
of marketing, retained a public relations firm, exhibited at the
PGA Merchandise Show and run ads in several golf publications.
What is MacNeill afraid of? Softspikes, the product and the
company. "We've seen a lot of evolution in the spike business,
but now there's a revolution," says Harris MacNeill, 40, the
president of the company and the son of its cofounder,
90-year-old Harold MacNeill, who started the company with his
father, Harris, a mechanic. "We've had to adapt and react."
Softspikes, which in 1993 produced the first green-friendly
plastic spike, has claimed nearly 70% of the nonmetal spike
business, which some experts predict will be the only spike
business within a decade. More than 1,300 of the 15,000 courses
in the U.S.--including 45 of the top 100--already require
alternative spikes. The transition from metal to plastic has
MacNeill reeling. To remain competitive, the company had to
develop its own nonmetal line (Tred-Lite) a year ago. "We've
always been prepared to make anything," says Harold MacNeill,
who still works three days a week at the company that has made
more than five billion spikes. "I'm not an authority on the
newer spikes, but it seems to be a normal sequence of events.
We'll continue to do well, I'm certain."
Maybe, but with a spike war all but declared, one must wonder
whether the old school can keep up. "For spikes, metal is a
dinosaur," says Jud Sokol, the marketing manager at Softspikes.
"MacNeill may know more about metal than we do, but, truthfully,
THE SHAG BAG
Last Friday, Tiger Woods broke the course record at the
Isleworth Country Club in Orlando by five strokes, shooting a
59, the lowest score of his life. Woods's round was witnessed by
Mark O'Meara, who had held the course record and shot 67. The
par-72 Isleworth course stretches 7,042 yards from the tips,
which Woods and O'Meara played. Woods shot 32 on the front nine,
then had a nine-under 27 on the back that included five birdies
and two eagles. Both of the eagles were the result of
one-putting par-5 holes....Before she won $46,546 for finishing
second at the Longs Drugs Challenge, Pam Komentani had made $629
in four LPGA events in '97 and $14,149 in her career....The
official Masters Web site address is http://www.masters.org....
Robert Damron, 24, is the highest-ranked rookie on the Tour's
money list. After his 48th-place finish in New Orleans, Damron
is 44th with $144,844. He has made seven cuts in 11 events and
his best finish was a tie for fifth at Doral....On the Sunday
before this year's British Open, Nick Faldo and Prince Andrew,
the Duke of York, an eight handicap and avid player, will take
on Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and Gavin Hastings, a retired
captain of the Scottish national rugby side, in a charity
exhibition match at the Roxburghe Golf Course in Sunlaws,
Scotland....The Bad Golfers Association named the Laurens
(Iowa) Golf and Country Club its 1996 course of the year.
Laurens, with a 1,200-foot grass runway that cuts through four
of its nine holes, doubles as an airport for single-engine
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Gulbis scored a p.r. bonanza but didn't have the numbers to play on the weekend. [Boy applauding Natalie Gulbis on golf course]
COLOR PHOTO: LANE STEWART For the MacNeills, Harold (left) and Harris, the future is plastic. [Harold MacNeill holding metal golf spike and Harris MacNeill holding plastic golf spike]
MASTERS OF THE WORLD
This week's tournament in Augusta may be the oldest Masters, but
it's not the only one. Pro events ranging from the European
tour's Volvo Masters to the Asian PGA Masters, which was
canceled in November due to an outbreak of dengue fever, also
use the title. Here's a look at the pretenders, in the order in
which they fall on the 1997 calendar.
NAME LOCATION TITLEHOLDER PURSE
South African Durban Mark McNulty $165,000
Australian Melbourne Peter Lonard $750,000
Alpine Ladies Queensland, Gail Graham $823,000
Turespana Gran Canaria, Jose Maria $560,000
Masters Augusta, Ga. Nick Faldo $2,500,000
Canadian Ancaster, Ont. Trevor Dodds $125,000
Scandinavian Malmo, Sweden Lee Westwood $1,120,000
Wentworth Surrey, New Event $400,000
Evian Ladies Paris Laura Davies $600,000
Sabah Kota Kinabalu, Thaworn $200,000
European Crans-sur- Colin $1,228,800
Asia Pacific Binton, New Event $150,000
British Warwickshire, Robert Allenby $1,120,000
German Berlin Darren Clarke $1,040,000
Volvo Montecastillo, Mark McNulty $1,440,000
Alfred Hong Kong Bernhard Langer $625,000
Merlion Singapore Peter Teravainen $175,000
Pakistan Karachi Eric Rustand $275,000
Asian PGA Delhi, India Canceled $250,000
Visa Taiheiyo Shizuoka, Lee Westwood $1,500,000
Sorry, Brad, but no player has ever followed a victory in the
final Tour event before the Masters by winning a green jacket.