SHOOTING FOR THE MOON
Golfing astronaut Alan Shepard played a game that was out of
Golf lost a friend when Alan Shepard died of leukemia on July
21. Shepard was the first American in space, the man who rode a
Mercury capsule, launched by a seven-story Redstone rocket, for
15 minutes on May 5, 1961. That feat secured his place in
history, but the cocky, cigar-smoking Shepard would have more
than 15 minutes of fame. In 1971 he became the fifth man on the
moon, but Apollo 14's mission commander didn't just moonwalk.
"Gonna hit a little sand shot," he said, dropping a ball onto
the powdery lunar surface. Gripping a six-iron affixed to a
collapsible utility tool, swinging one-handed--his moon suit was
too bulky to allow a normal swing--he chili-dipped the ball 100
feet toward a small crater. "I got more dirt than ball," he
said, his voice crackling through the void. But the American
can-do spirit won out: He took a mulligan. Shepard dropped a
second ball and hit it pure. "There it goes!" he shouted.
The balls' fate would puzzle him for years. "Both balls are
still up there," Shepard said in 1991. "Perhaps the youngsters
of today will go up and play golf with them years from now."
Later, however, he reconsidered. "The temperature goes from 250
degrees to 150 below, a swing of 400 degrees. I think they've
exploded by now."
Which is it? Are the balls perfectly preserved in the lunar
vacuum, or have they turned to dust? It would help to know what
sort of balls they were, but Shepard never answered that
question for fear of commercializing history. "I've never told
anybody. I've never told my wife," he said.
His golf pro knew, though. Jack Harden, the pro at Houston's
River Oaks Country Club, provided the sawed-off six-iron that
Shepard took to the moon. (The club resides at the USGA museum
in Far Hills, N.J.) Harden received a shipment of two-piece
Surlyn-covered range balls from Spalding in 1971. "They had two
blue stripes on them and said PROPERTY OF JACK HARDEN," says
Jack Harden Jr., whose father died last August. "Dad knew
there'd be extreme temperatures up there, so he gave Shepard
some of those durable range balls."
Some scientists think the balls should still be playable. "They
can be in nothing but pristine condition," says Jet Propulsion
Laboratory spokesman Eric Hayne. Says Rob Navias of NASA,
"There's no way to be sure, but I believe they're in good shape,
perhaps partly embedded in lunar dust." Navias grants that
partially buried balls would undergo extreme heat and cold.
"Still, a golf ball is a pretty durable object."
Not always, says Troy Puckett Jr. of Cayman Golf in Albany, Ga.,
who has tested balls in near-lunar conditions. "I can guarantee
those balls are not unchanged," Puckett says. "A Surlyn
ball--that's a DuPont ionomer resin. It's largely a ball of
plastic. Any exposed part would tan a little at first, like a
ball you leave out in the sun. With more heat, the dimples would
smooth out. We see that happen when we heat a ball at 200
degrees for a couple hours. In time the cover would turn brown,
and with the cold of the lunar night, probably crack and fall
off." As the balls' cores froze and dried, Puckett says, "they'd
get hard and brittle, going up to 150 or 160 compression, hard
as a rock. Then they'd probably sit there forever in the
vacuum." Even if those balls embossed with Jack Harden's name
were as subject to decay as our mortal selves, remnants of them
wait to be found someday.
"He lived every golfer's dream," President Clinton said of
Shepard last week, "taking his six-iron and hitting the ball, in
his words, 'miles and miles.'"
Shepard, who had houses in Houston and Pebble Beach and played
to an eight handicap, found it odd that his moon shots nearly
overshadowed the rest of his career. "I'm probably a hell of a
lot more famous for being the guy who hit the golf ball on the
moon than as the first guy in space," he said. Yet the first
golfer in space was not merely a sportsman or a hero. He was
All kidding aside, Gary McCord cared deeply about his debut as a
Senior player. The 50-year-old CBS golf analyst showed plenty of
game at the U.S. Senior Open until a final-round 78 dropped him
to 33rd place.
"I've got a lot of ring rust, most of it mental," he said, "but
I think I can compete out here." McCord was less than
competitive on the PGA Tour, which he played from 1973 to '86
without a victory. He felt some of the old desperation at
Riviera. "There's still a ball, a tee and a bunch of evil. You
fight your wars alone," he said. "At least now I have a couple
bullets in my gun." Bullet No. 1 is money. McCord has his TV
work and a movie deal to help make a film about the gambler
Titanic Thompson. Bullet No. 2 is faith in his mechanics. After
leaving the Tour, he learned a new swing from Mac O'Grady. "I
got a template from Mac, and my game is good enough for the
Seniors," says McCord. "I'm long enough, got a good short
game--it's all there. Embarrassment is not in the scenario."
McCord hopes to play a dozen Senior events a year. "This game is
my love, but I have never done it well," he says. "I'd like to
do it well this time." --Jaime Diaz
The Shag Bag
In Memoriam: Renay Appleby, wife of Tour player Stuart Appleby,
died on July 23 after being struck by a car in London. She was
25. The Applebys were getting out of a taxi at Waterloo Station
to board a train for Paris when Renay was hit. "She was a
bubbly, bright person who could get on with anyone," says fellow
Australian Craig Parry.
Royal Subject: As 17-year-old Justin Rose prepped for his pro
debut at last week's Dutch Open, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson
said, "Justin is extremely focused at such a young age. I think
he and Tiger [Woods] could become great friends--or
adversaries." Rose shot 77-65 to miss the cut by a shot. The
winner, Australia's Stephen Leaney, dedicated his victory to
Stock Par Racing: Dave Stockton Jr. played Pleasant Valley
Country Club during the CVS Charity Classic while his father
fought fierce Riviera in the U.S. Senior Open. "He didn't want
to bet," Stockton Jr. said of the weekly $5-a-day bet he makes
with his dad, "but I said, 'Hey, we play tough courses every
week.'" The Stocktons finished tied for seventh in the CVS and
sixth at the Senior Open. Junior won $43,650 from the tournament
and $20 from Dad.
Uh-Oh: James Oh, a 16-year-old from Lakewood, Calif., was trying
to lag a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Conway Farms
Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. It went in, and Oh topped Aaron
Baddeley one-up in the U.S. Junior.
Wright On: Ben Wright has joined the syndicated TV show Golf
2000 with Peter Jacobsen. Starting on Sept. 14, Wright will air
his views in two-minute segments called "Quite Wright."
Grip It and Wonk It: The New Republic, which calls itself the
in-flight magazine of Air Force One, grapples with golf in its
Aug. 3 issue. In a piece titled "The Golfing of America," Scott
Stossel calls the handicapping system a "socialist device" and
concludes that the game "is beginning to look more like America:
diverse, multicultural and largely middle class."
A Leg Up: Lorie Kane is considered the LPGA's main Canadian
patriot, but countrywoman Gail Graham has a maple leaf tattooed
on her right hip.
What a Croc: The tale of a golfer who became a reptile's lunch
has been swimming the Net lately. Ol' Mose, a leathery resident
of The Breakers Hotel golf course in Palm Beach, Fla.,
supposedly ate a player on the 7th hole. The purported proof: a
photo of a crocodile with its belly cut open to reveal a human
arm. The Breakers has received more than 100 croc calls in the
past two weeks, but a hotel spokeswoman says there are no
crocodiles in Palm Beach and no water on the 7th hole.
Pak to the Wall: Upon hearing how ESPN's Kenny Mayne uses her
name to describe home runs, the LPGA rookie did a Mark McGwire
impression on the practice green at the Giant Eagle Classic last
week. Swinging her putter in the air, she shouted, "Seeee Riii
Pak!" Said Pak before bagging her fourth win of '98, "I think I
could hit a home run if I tried."
BOMBING YOUR DRIVES
A mushroom cloud of hype surrounds the new Peace Missile 2000
driver, a club made from "authentic U.S. and Russian nuclear
missiles," according to its maker. Cary Schuman, who claims to
have set a world record with a 463-yard drive, founded Peace
Missile Corp. in Novato, Calif., in 1995 with course developer
John Lisanti. Their first line of clubs included a putter made
partly from SS23 Soviet nuclear missiles, bringing new meaning
to the golfer's lament, "It went off in my hands." Last year
Schuman and Lisanti acquired parts of a U.S. Polaris A-3 missile
that once threatened to turn the Kremlin into a divot. "The next
best thing to world peace is a better golf game," says Schuman,
who boasts that his no-longer-lethal weapons propel balls
farther than drivers made by Callaway and Orlimar do. With
claims like that, there's bound to be fallout from the USGA.
During her days on the LPGA tour, Jocelyne Bourassa was known
for holding bilingual conversations with her caddie, her
galleries, herself and even her ball. The Montreal native was
also known for her sponsor, a horseman who bragged about his
"two great fillies." Twenty-five years ago, at the first du
Maurier Classic--then called La Canadienne and not yet a
major--Bourassa shot a five-under-par 214 to force overtime with
Sandra Haynie and Judy Rankin, then sent her hometown fans into
paroxysms of joie by winning the playoff. She spent a year in
graduate school at Wisconsin, studying the sociology of sport,
and served on Canada's national sports and fitness council.
Bourassa retired from pro golf with only that one victory but
remains active in the sport. When she attends the du Maurier
this week, it won't be only as a former champ. She's also the
COLOR PHOTO: GREGG DE GUIRE/LONDON FEATURES INT. SATELLITE TOUR On earthly turf (left, in 1996) or the moon, Shepard had the right stuff. [Alan Shepard golfing]
COLOR PHOTO: AP/NASA [See caption above--Alan Shepard on moon]
What do these players have in common?
--Se Ri Pak
They are the only players to win a U.S. Open title in sudden
death after an 18-hole playoff.
Arnold Palmer called the conditions at last week's Senior Open
at Riviera "as hard as I have played in any Open." Palmer wasn't
kidding about the course's length and dense kikuyu rough. Here's
how the players' stats compared with their numbers on the Senior
tour for the rest of the year.
SR. OPEN 1998 AVG.
Scoring Avg. 77.7 72.7
Driving Distance 245.8 259.3
Fairways Hit 67% 68.5%
Greens in Reg. 41.1% 62.6%
Putts per G.I.R. 1.65 1.811
Birdies per Round 1.65 2.94
Holes per Eagle 519.6 395.9
Men at Rest
Do today's rich purses encourage top golfers to pace themselves
and play less often? Ric Clarson, the Tour's VP of tournament
business affairs, says they don't. The facts, however, suggest a
more complex reality.
TOTAL PURSE AVG. STARTS BY
(IN MILLIONS) TOP 10 PLAYERS
1997 $77.7 22.7
1994 56.4 20.8
1991 49.6 24.8
1988 36.9 25.8
1985 25.3 25.8
1982 15.1 25.2
Se Ri Pak's scoring average in the month of July--nearly a stroke
lower than the next best average, 70.27, shared by Dottie Pepper
and Annika Sorenstam.