Back of the Class of '99
Bruce Fleisher has two wins and a second. Jim Thorpe has ties
for fifth and sixth. Yet the most endearing, if not enduring,
member of the Senior tour's rookie class is Alberto Giannone of
Argentina, who has failed to crack the top 50 in three
tournaments this season.
"I had never heard of him. Nobody had ever heard of him," says
Greenwich, Conn., agent Rod Armstrong, who nonetheless agreed to
represent Giannone as a favor to another Argentine client,
Vicente Fernandez. "I first met Alberto at Q school [at
Grenelefe Golf Resort in Haines City, Fla., in December], and
he's this little person [5'8", 150 pounds]. On the 1st tee he
pulls out a 52-inch driver and starts taking practice swings. It
looks like he's swinging a telephone pole. Then he birdies 1, 2,
3, 4, 5 and lips out for birdie on 6. When he birdies 8, he's
six under and everybody's looking around saying, 'Who is this
Giannone is this season's curiosity du jour on the Senior tour,
a man who delivered newspapers and mail to supplement his income
from the South American tour, where in 28 years his biggest
check was for $2,100. So fierce is Giannone's passion for the
game that his nickname is Loco. "Before I play, I'm like a
racehorse in the gate," he says, through an interpreter. "I'm
always the first one in the lobby in the morning, ready to go."
By coming in third at Grenelefe (one spot behind Fleisher and
three ahead of Thorpe), Giannone made $13,000. He said the money
would pay his expenses, of which, evidently, there were many. He
arrived at Miami International Airport for his first Senior
event, the Feb. 5-7 Royal Caribbean Classic, with $11 in his
wallet. It barely covered his cab fare to Crandon Park Golf
Course in Key Biscayne, where, with four balls in his bag, he
began a practice round by hitting one into the agua. By the 12th
hole he was out of balls, and he spent the rest of the day
exploring the course.
Giannone's favorite stomping ground is Wal-Mart, a colorful,
fun-filled emporium the likes of which he'd never seen. In the
Haines City store he bought $18 golf shirts, but he's since
scored a clothing contract. "I never thought I'd be out here,"
he says. "To be able to hit balls next to [Arnold] Palmer is
Bratton's the Quiet Cowboy
At the Buick Invitational in San Diego two weeks ago, PGA Tour
rookie Alan Bratton was introduced on the 1st tee as Alan
Branton. At last week's Nissan Open he was Alan Brayton. That's
O.K., though. Bratton's used to such indignities. When asked
about the paucity of people watching him shoot 67-67 to get
within a shot of the lead heading into the third round at
Riviera, he said matter-of-factly, "If I were a fan here, I
wouldn't be following me either."
Bratton has always been an under-the-radar guy. At the 1995
NCAAs he birdied the last three holes to get Oklahoma State into
a sudden-death playoff with Stanford, then birdied the first
overtime hole to help win the title for the Cowboys. The media
knew just what to do: Interview Cardinal freshman Tiger Woods.
Bratton, who shot 74-70 on the weekend to come in 15th and win
$40,670, is still playing stealth golf. Before placing 17th at Q
school in November, he had failed to reach the finals for three
straight years and played on the Asian tour, where he was paid
in cash. He recalls flying home once with $18,000 in hundred
dollar bills and jokes that he was lucky that he didn't get held
up. Fat chance. Bratton's a blender. When he qualified for L.A.
by shooting 66 and then birdieing the first hole of sudden
death, most of the attention went to 16-year-old James Oh, whom
Bratton had just beaten. The rest went to 13-year-old
eighth-grader Henry Liaw, who missed the playoff by 10 shots.
Bratton was simply glad to be in, especially after learning that
former Oklahoma State teammate Bo Van Pelt also qualified. "I
don't even know what the Tour is really like yet," Bratton says.
"I'm still learning. The game is the same, only the players are
better. I do know one thing: You've got to play well every day."
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW KAUFMAN LONGSHOT Making it to the U.S. was a reach for Giannone.
COLOR PHOTO: RADI NABULSI
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL HOLAHAN
COLOR PHOTO: KAY LEVIE
What do these players have in common?
They're the most recent to choose not to defend a PGA Tour
title. Duval made this week's World Match Play, so he'll skip
Tucson. Norman's shoulder surgery kept him out of the '98 World
Series, in which Calcavecchia played in lieu of the Greater
Vancouver Open, the event he won to qualify for Akron.
Who should be ranked No. 1?
David Duval 58%
Tiger Woods 42%
--Based on 1,816 responses to our informal survey Next question:
Did the World Match Play exceed, meet or fall short of your
expectations? To vote, go to www.cnnsi.com/golf.
Here are the best and worst match players in the field this week
at La Costa, based on singles results in the Ryder and
Presidents Cups, the World Match Play, the World Championship of
Golf and the U.S. Amateur. (Based on at least five matches.)
PLAYER (WORLD RANK) REC. AVG.
1. Scott Verplank (47) 9-1 .900
2. Tiger Woods (1) 23-4 .852
3. John Cook (39) 15-3 .833
4. Craig Stadler (58) 9-2 .818
5. Ernie Els (4) 17-4 .810
1. Jesper Parnevik (17) 1-6 .143
2. Darren Clarke (16) 1-4 .200
3. Steve Stricker (23) 2-4 .333
4. J.M. Olazabal (31) 5-9 .357
5. Brad Faxon (40) 5-8 .385
Angela Jerman, Columbus, Ga.
Jerman, a freshman at Georgia, led the fifth-ranked Bulldogs to
a 15-shot victory in the TRW Regional Challenge at Palos Verdes
(Calif.) Golf Club, an event featuring eight of the top 10
teams. The Bulldogs' low scorer, with a 75.0 average, Jerman
placed fourth with a nine-over 222.
Chandler Masters, Henderson, Nev.
Masters, 33, the superintendent at Rio Secco Golf Club, won the
Golf Course Superintendents championship in Tampa with a
two-over 145 to beat defending champ Al Pondel by three. Masters
grew up in Augusta and worked on the grounds crew at Augusta
National from 1980 to '83.
Dick Schneider, Longview, Wash.
Schneider, a nine handicapper who turned 80 on New Year's Day,
shot his age or better in 69 of the 170 rounds that he played in
'98. Schneider's low round last year was a two-over-par 74 at De
Anza Country Club in Borrego Springs, Calif. His career best is
a 69 at Longview Country Club.