GEAR AND CLOTHING IN LAS VEGAS
A bad business climate cast a pall on golf's summer spectacular
Despite the garish lights and sunbeam smiles and a Liquidmetal
fountain spewing quicksilver, last weekend's PGA International
Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center had a funereal feel. The
sport has never been so popular, but lately the value of golf
stocks has been dropping like Vijay Singh's putts. Analysts say
the $3 billion equipment industry may take a $600 million hit in
1998. "It's serious," Ely Callaway says of the slowdown. "It's
nothing that can't be overcome, but there's cause for concern."
Callaway Golf, the industry bellwether, has lost almost 80% of
its value in the last year, tumbling from a 52-week high of 59
5/16 to 11 15/16. Once a Wall Street darling, Callaway is now
favored by short sellers, who wager that a stock's price will
fall. Nike has seen its Tiger Woods line of shoes and apparel
selling like Edsels. Golden Bear Golf, with its share price
hovering around $4 and several lawsuits pending, was delisted by
the NASDAQ exchange this month for reporting only $2.9 million
of its $24.7 million in 1997 losses. Not to be outdone, Arnold
Palmer Golf has fired nearly half its workforce, blaming low
earnings. Lynx, which had lured Jack Nicholson and Pete Sampras
as investor-pitchmen, filed for Chapter 11 in July. Even Adams
Golf, which rode its Tight Lies fairway woods to huge profits,
has suffered. After going public six weeks ago, Adams saw its
stock open at $16 a share, but the price has since plummeted to
6 15/16. "If I had known this would happen, I wouldn't have told
my mom to buy it," jokes CEO Barney Adams. Rumors persist that
Orlimar, a company that has also relied on fairway woods for
most of its success, may delay its IPO in light of Adams's
Why are so many companies caught in the financial rough? One
reason is economic trouble in Asia, where clubmakers like
Callaway make about 10% of their sales. Another problem is a
shortage of innovative products. "If somebody got a new driver
last year, it's hard to persuade him to buy another one that's
not much different," says Hayley Kissel, a toy and leisure
products analyst for Merrill Lynch. Finally, there's the El Nino
effect: Early-season rains crimped the golf season, discouraging
players from investing in new gear.
Still, the Vegas show drew more than 1,100 exhibitors, from
Nike--whose 8,000-square-foot booth rivaled the Mirage's volcano
as the gaudiest attraction in town--to Daphne's, a
husband-and-wife outfit selling toy-animal headcovers. Titleist
and Cobra were notable no-shows, but other firms were happy to
pony up $15.75 per square foot to hawk their wares. This year's
new wrinkle was decidedly downscale: The show doubled as a swap
meet, with manufacturers quietly unloading inventory at bargain
prices. "There were terrific opportunities," says John Siipola,
CEO of Las Vegas Golf and Tennis, one of the nation's largest
retailers. Siipola foresees widespread price-cutting in the next
Abandon hope? That's not an option for retrenching companies
like Callaway, whose ballyhooed Steelhead clubs might spur a new
growth cycle. Golf clothes by Tommy Hilfiger, Bugle Boy and
Nike--Tiger's line notwithstanding--are selling well, and course
construction in the U.S is at an alltime high. "This year was
definitely strange," says Mike Whan, vice president of sales and
marketing for Taylor Made, "but there are signs that it was only
a blip. We're all banking on a bounce-back in 1999."
--L. Jon Wertheim
ONE PUTT AND THREE NEEDLES
Tom Pernice struggled for 15 years. After an All-America career
at UCLA, where he starred along with teammates Steve Pate, Corey
Pavin and Duffy Waldorf, Pernice fell flat as a pro. He never
won on Tour or finished higher than 127th on the money list. He
fought his way through Q school every year. Still, Pernice's
professional heartaches were no match for what he felt in 1995,
when his daughter, Brooke, was born with a retinal disorder,
Leber's amaurosis, so severe that she was legally blind.
The family moved from Missouri to California hoping to find a
specialist who could help Brooke. "We couldn't find one doctor
who thought she would ever see," says Pernice's wife, Sydney.
Then came the unlikeliest medical breakthrough of the year: a
round of golf with crooner Englebert Humperdinck. "I mentioned
Brooke's problem," Pernice recalls, "and Englebert told me about
his mother, who had been blind for eight years before a doctor
in Santa Monica, an acupuncturist, cured her."
The Pernices were skeptical. "But we had to try," Sydney says.
They took Brooke to Dr. Don Ha, whose treatment entailed
sticking three needles around the child's eyes. Eventually
Brooke, who had been unable to tell night from day, began to
see. Today her still-cloudy vision has a range of two to four
feet, enough to spot colors on the CDs Sydney plays for her on
their thrice-weekly, four-hour round trips between their house
in Temecula and the doctor's office 100 miles northwest. Best of
all, Brooke saw the joy on her dad's face after his birdie putt
on the final hole at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. The $270,000
Pernice won for finishing second behind Phil Mickelson that day
lifted his '98 earnings to $357,260--almost matching his career
total before this year.
"It is such a relief to know I've finally secured my Tour card.
It's been a long struggle, but I made it," Pernice says. "What's
even better is that I believe in my heart that Brooke will
someday see like you and I do." What does all that Pebble Beach
money mean to him? "It means I can take my family on a
well-deserved vacation this December," he says. "I won't be
going back to Q school."
THE SHAG BAG
How Swede It Is: European Solheim Cup captain Pia Nilsson
insists she wasn't playing favorites on Sunday when she gave
four of the squad's five wild-card berths to players from her
native Sweden. "All I can count on is my conscience, and I'm
comfortable," says Nilsson. Along with Annika Sorenstam, who won
last week's Compaq Open, and Helen Alfredsson, who like
Sorenstam earned enough points in European tour play to qualify,
captain's choices Sophie Gustafson, Catrin Nilsmark, Liselotte
Neumann and Charlotta Sorenstam--Annika's sister--will face Judy
Rankin's American team on Sept. 18-20 at Muirfield Village in
Dublin, Ohio. Rounding out the Euro roster will be Laura Davies,
Lisa Hackney, Trish Johnson and Alison Nicholas of England,
Scotland's Catriona Matthew and France's Marie-Laure de Lorenzi.
"This is the strongest team Europe has ever had," Nilsson says.
Money Player: Last week's Northville Long Island Classic
featured presidential Viagra jokes--"Be like Bill and take the
pill," said Chi Chi Rodriguez--and a champion whose vigor hasn't
waned in 45 years as a pro. Gary Player, who had double-hernia
surgery last year but still does 1,000 sit-ups a day, edged
Walter Hall and J.C. Snead by a stroke to win his 19th Senior
title and $150,000. At 62, the man other Seniors call Laddie
became the second-oldest winner in tour history, behind Mike
Fetchick, who was 63 when he won the 1985 Hilton Head Seniors.
"I think I can win out here when I'm 70," Player said.
Buena Baena: Two-time NCAA player of the year Marisa Baena
turned pro last week and finished 47th at the LPGA Rainbow
Classic at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, Minn., nine
shots behind winner Hiromi Kobayashi. Baena, a native of
Colombia who played for Arizona, sported a Wildcats shirt and
cap during her debut and earned $1,928.
Invisible Man: John Daly, who has either missed the cut or been
disqualified in his last five tournaments--not counting the
rain-delayed AT&T, in which he also missed the cut--says he has
had it for this year and may ask to be replaced on the U.S.
Dunhill Cup team. "I wouldn't be any help right now," says Daly,
who has not had a top 20 finish since March.
Just Blowing Through: Sergio Garcia, who hopes to breeze through
this week's U.S. Amateur, tuned up by winning the Apawamis
Junior in Rye, N.Y., by three shots.
Big Yak Attack: Nike ad man Adam Roth says that shooting his
company's Golfing Everest print and TV spots on Mount Blackomb
in British Columbia, was "a learning experience." The crew faced
out-of-control snowmobiles, avalanche warnings and fickle beasts
of burden. "Sherpas use yaks to carry gear up Everest, so we
flew a yak in for the shoot," says Roth. "We had a helicopter
ready to take him up the mountain, but he refused to get on it.
We had to leave our yak back at the hotel."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH TROUBLE AFOOT Merchants hope the golf equipment biz, soft this year, spikes upward in '99. [Oversized golf shoe on display at trade show]
COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM R. SALLAZ LOOKING UP Life got brighter for Brooke (center) and the Pernices. [Sydney Pernice, Brooke Pernice, Tom Pernice and other daughter]
What do these players have in common?
They are the only men in this century to win three or more U.S.
Amateur titles. Jones won five between 1924 and '30; Travers,
four between 1907 and '13; and Woods, three straight from 1994
Which was the best major championship of 1998?
Women's Open 25%
British Open 20%
U.S. Open 13%
Senior Open 1%
--Based on 2,255 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Do you believe that President Clinton has broken
80, as he claims? To answer, go to www.cnnsi.com/golf.
With four victories and $778,991 in earnings, Se Ri Pak has made
one of the best pro debuts in four decades. Pak has a long way
to go to match Nancy Lopez in 1978, however. Here are the top 10
rookie seasons since 1960.
PLAYER WINS PRIZE MONEY
Nancy Lopez, '78 9 $ 189,813 1
Karrie Webb, '96 4 1,002,000 1
Se Ri Pak, '98 4 778,991 2
Jack Nicklaus, '62 3 61,869 3
Juli Inkster, '84 2 186,501 6
Jerry Pate, '76 2 153,102 10
Bob Murphy, '68 2 105,595 10
Laura Davies, '88 2 160,382 15
Phil Mickelson, '93 2 628,735 22
Roger Maltbie, '75 2 81,035 23
Tiger Woods, '96 2 790,594 24
Robert Gamez, '90 2 461,407 27
Strokes per round separating Vijay Singh (69.85), who leads the
PGA Tour money list with $1,694,253, and Brian Claar (71.43),
who ranks 200th with $40,787.
RETURN OF THE POD PERSON
Jim Flood, a founder of Aldila--the first major graphite-shaft
manufacturer--and Odyssey, the putter maker, also invented a
toe-shafted putter called the Basakwerd. His latest contraption,
says Flood, "is so ugly it defies belief." It's the Power-Ti-Pod
driver, which he claims is slice-proof. You may recall his
original Power-Pod, a round-faced plastic driver introduced in
1984. According to Flood, "The Power-Pod was the hottest-selling
new product in the history of golf." Yet it tended to shatter at
impact, a flaw that cost the inventor $1.5 million in
replacements and repairs. "Now I've got titanium, which won't
break," says Flood, who claims that Pod: The Sequel has a
hitting surface 80% larger than the Biggest Big Bertha's. The
new driver may be unsightly, but he expects no problems from
golf's rule makers. As USGA technical director Frank Thomas said
of the original Pod, "Just because a club is ugly doesn't mean
NICK BY A WHISKER
Nick Price learned a lesson during the World Series of Golf in
1983: If you want to win, lose the mustache. "I think it brought
me bad luck," the newly clean-shaven rookie from Zimbabwe said
on the eve of the final round at Firestone Country Club. The
next day Price fired a bogey-free 67 to win his first Tour
title, over Jack Nicklaus, who closed with a 65, and a group of
pursuers that included Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller
and Tom Watson. Price's victory came a year after he had blown a
three-shot lead during an excruciating finish at the British
Open, in which his driver suddenly began misfiring all over
Royal Troon. "All I wanted to do here was prove I could play
good golf without choking," he said at Firestone. With no lip
fuzz to gag on, the 26-year-old Price earned $100,000 and a
10-year exemption on the U.S. Tour, which he would dominate a