Of Crocs and Crotch Hooks
You won't learn much about Tiger Woods or the U.S. Open in
Offbeat Golf ($17.95, Santa Monica Press), but you will find
courses where tigers roam, and you'll meet Floyd Rowe, who spent
13 months hitting a golf ball across the U.S. and shot 114,737.
Bob Loeffelbein's goofy golf compendium also features trick-shot
artists Paul Hahn Jr., who slaps 200-yard drives with a club
that has a rubber hose for a shaft, and Wedgy Winchester, who
can chip coins into the hole from 20 yards out. Loeffelbein
loves scary local rules (free drops on crocodile-infested holes
at the Mwanza Club in Africa), odd tales such as the one about a
submarine that fell from the sky onto a course, and gadgets like
the keep-your-head-down-or-else Crotch Hook, a headband
connected by a short elastic rope to a huge, barbed hook that
fits between a golfer's legs. If nothing else, Offbeat Golf
proves that the game can be an exercise in masochism.
Yip, Yip, Hooray
Germany's Bernhard Langer contracted the yips when he was 19. He
cured them by switching to a heavier putter. But in 1988 Langer,
then 30, suffered a relapse. Shortly after tempting golf's gods
by discussing the yips with a reporter, Langer five-putted from
three feet on one hole at the '88 British Open. Ten years ago
this month at the Million Dollar Challenge in Sun City, South
Africa, his putter twitching all the way, he finished last. That
December debacle prompted Langer to invent a hand-over-wrist yip
grip that took all wrist action out of his stroke and revived
his game. "I've had the yips and overcome them," he said. "I
just hope they don't come back." They haven't yet. In '93, five
years after his total eclipse in Sun City, the yip-gripping
Langer won his second Masters. This year he ranked 50th on the
European tour in putting and earned $432,872.
Shoulder surgery has Tom Lehman mulling his future
A hot tub and a cold beer can make a philosopher out of anyone,
so it was no surprise that last Saturday evening Tom Lehman
dropped his Midwestern reserve and mused about everything from
Zippergate (impeach Clinton) to college football (who's really
No. 1?) to criminals' rights (they have too many), with more
than a little golf mixed in.
Lehman had much to reflect on. Earlier that day he had grabbed
five skins, worth $150,000, during the first nine holes of the
Skins Game at Rancho La Quinta Country Club, near Palm Springs,
Calif. After the round he had gone for a dip in the hotel
Jacuzzi with his wife, Melissa. Now Lehman, his hair still slick
from the tub, sat relaxing in his suite, sipping from a bottle
of microbrew labeled Mulligans. "People can forget you out here
on Tour," he said. "You can be yesterday's news in a hurry."
What made the 1996 player of the year so pensive was the
operation he had scheduled for less than 48 hours later.
At 8:30 on Monday morning, Lehman underwent surgery to repair
his right shoulder, which he had separated while horsing around
with his kids at the British Open. His injury is thought to be
less severe than the one suffered by fellow Skinsman Greg
Norman, whose bum shoulder put him on the shelf for seven
months, but Lehman will miss up to three months, and at 39 he
feels that his career may have reached a crossroads. It has been
two years since his last official victory, the '96 Tour
Championship, which along with his British Open triumph that
summer at Royal Lytham and St. Annes made Lehman a star of the
first magnitude. But he has finished 19th and 25th on the money
list in the past two seasons. His invitation to this year's
Skins Game came only because his mediocre '97 ended with a Skins
win and the defending champ gets an automatic invite.
Still, he outlasted Fred Couples in a six-hole playoff on Sunday
to pick up two skins worth $270,000, boosting his two-day total
to $420,000. That was $10,000 shy of Mark O'Meara's take but
more than twice what Couples earned and infinitely more than
Norman, who got shut out. Not bad for a guy who bounced around
mini-tours on three continents for almost a decade before
finally winning on Tour in 1994, at age 35.
Lehman's recent slide into the ranks of the merely good may be
traceable to his crowning moment. "I've always had trouble
saying no, and after the '96 British Open, I said yes way too
much," he said last weekend. The grind of endorsements,
corporate outings, interviews and autographs wore him down until
this year, when he cut back on the extracurriculars and regained
his passion for the game. He tied for second at the Players
Championship last March. He finished third at the Buick Classic
the week before the U.S. Open, peaking as usual for the event
that is coming to define him. At the Olympic Club he played
bravely, earning a spot in the final twosome on Sunday, but
labored to a 75 and tied for fifth. It was his fourth straight
bitter disappointment at the Open.
A month later, on the Tuesday of British Open week, Lehman took
Melissa and their three kids--Rachael, 8; Holly, 6; and Thomas,
3--to an amusement park near Royal Birkdale and suffered the
oddball injury of the year. He was upside down, clowning around
on an antigravity machine, when his feet slipped and he dropped
with a thud onto his shoulder. "My first thought was, This is no
bruise, it's the real McCoy," he says.
He missed the cut that week. An MRI revealed the separation,
which doctors said would heal with time and rest. Lehman limited
himself to six tournaments the rest of the year, but the
shoulder got worse. There was nothing to do but go under the
"Tom's been awesome about it," said Melissa on Saturday,
slipping into a terry-cloth robe and into the surfer talk of her
California college days. "When the second diagnosis came, he was
like, 'Party down, let's get this thing done.'"
On Sunday afternoon, after skinning Couples in sudden death and
earning "enough to cover my doctor bills," Lehman set his sights
on life after surgery. "When I come back, I'm gonna be an
underdog again," he said, "but that's O.K. It's a position I
like." --Alan Shipnuck
Beauty and The Beach
Like a pebble in a Gucci loafer, the 5th hole at Pebble Beach
irritated its owners. The 5th was an anomaly--an inland par-3
that interrupted the seaside stretch of holes 4 through 10. It
zagged when the rest zigged because Chicago businessman William
Beatty had bought 5.4 acres along the coast in 1915, forcing
designers Douglas Grant and Jack Neville to build the course
around Beatty's property. Finally, in '96, the Pebble Beach
Company spent $3 million to buy the land and rebuild the hole.
"The last piece of the puzzle," head pro Chris Pryor calls
Pebble's new number 5, which opened for play on Nov. 18 (for
those who can pay the course's $295 greens fee). Jack Nicklaus
spent nine months turning a mediocre 166-yarder into an imposing
187-yard oceanfront hole (above, left) featuring a
4,000-square-foot green surrounded by bunkers above a hungry
"I think there will be higher scores," Nicklaus says.
The Shag Bag
Happy Endings: At the PGA Tour's recent qualifying tournament at
La Quinta, Calif., 1997 NCAA champ Charles Warren triple-bogeyed
the 3rd hole in the sixth and final round. Carlos Franco
four-putted the 11th hole and broke his putter in half. Chris
Smith, facing an evil chip at the last hole, was doomed if he
didn't get down in two. Amazingly, all three--along with Jeff
Brehaut, who had flunked six straight Q school finals, P.H.
Horgan III, who'd lost his Tour card by one stroke, and 36
others--came through and earned their cards for 1999. Warren
followed his triple with five straight birdies; Franco putted
smoothly with his driver on the last seven holes; and Smith, who
suspected he had no chance to get his 40-foot chip near the
hole, knocked it into the cup and jumped about six feet straight
Bulldog Curbed: Corey Pavin, who hasn't won a tournament since
the '96 Colonial, led by three shots with six holes to go on
Sunday at the Australian Players Championship in Brisbane.
Stephen Leaney one-putted all six to catch Pavin, then holed a
six-footer on the first playoff hole for the victory. "I wish
I'd won, but that was acceptable," said Pavin. "It's the best
I've played in a long time."
A Blue Rose: Justin Rose (left), who lit England's fire while
tying for fourth at the British Open, has yet to make a cut as a
pro. Last week in Sotogrande, Spain, he opened with a 78 in the
European tour's qualifying tournament. Rose rallied, though, and
needed a 70 in the final round to earn his Euro tour card. He
shot 80. Next year he'll be the most famous player on the
Challenge tour, Europe's version of the Nike circuit.
Shark Bait: The Masters has changed its entry requirements for
the first time in a decade. In '99 the top 50 players in the
World Ranking will be invited. That's good news for Greg Norman,
who wouldn't have qualified otherwise.
Expatriate Games: Brian Watts, who was all but unknown outside
Japan before nearly winning the '98 British Open, birdied the
second hole of sudden death to beat Toshimitsu Izawa in last
week's Casio World Open in Kagoshima, Japan. Watts, who'll
switch from the Japanese tour to the PGA Tour in '99, won
$192,857 to bring his earnings for the year to $952,592.
The Coast Isn't Clear: ClaimCard Inc., an insurance research
firm, estimates that crooks steal at least $100 million a year
in golf clubs. Retailer Edwin Watts has responded by introducing
an alarm system that blankets a shop in fog when burglars break
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK CUT! A day after winning a Skins Game playoff, Lehman reported to the operating room. [Tom Lehman swinging golf club]
COLOR PHOTO: JOANN DOST MISSING LINK Nicklaus perfected Pebble's front nine by building a beachin' new hole. [Fifth hole at Pebble Beach golf course]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Justin Rose swinging golf club]
Whom would you most like to see in the Skins Game?
Tiger Woods 31%
Fred Couples 17%
Se Ri Pak 11%
Greg Norman 8%
--Based on 2,872 responses to our informal survey.
Next question: What was the best shot of 1998? To see five
candidates and vote, go to www.cnnsi.com/golf.
As the World Churns
The controversial World Ranking will soon matter more than ever.
Based on worldwide performance over two years, it will determine
who gets to play in two of the three new World Golf Championship
events in 1999. Here are the top point men in '98 and their
current World Rankings.
Player '98 points Ranking
David Duval 394 3
Mark O'Meara 394 2
Lee Westwood 388 7
Vijay Singh 366 9
Tiger Woods 350 1
Colin Montgomerie 348 6
Davis Love III 308 4
Ernie Els 298 5
Jim Furyk 284 12
Phil Mickelson 270 10
Strokes this year by Annika Sorenstam, whose 69.99 average made
her the first LPGA player to break 70 for a season. Had Sorenstam
taken one more stroke in 1998, her average would have been 70.0.
What do these players have in common?
They are the only men to lead the Tour in scoring, wins and
earnings without being named player of the year. Snead lost out
to Ben Hogan in 1950 and Duval to Mark O'Meara in '98. There was
no award given in '68, Casper's big year.
Golf Plus will next appear in the Dec. 21 issue of Sports