It would be difficult to argue that Dudley Hart wasn't the
happiest man at the Honda Classic on Sunday. He had won for the
second time in his 10-year Tour career. He had done so at
home--Hart lives in Weston, Fla., a few exits down the Sawgrass
Expressway from Coral Springs and the TPC at Heron Bay. And he
had done it by birdieing the last four holes. To top it off,
Hart's victory was a special get-well gift for his father,
Chuck, a former club pro who was recuperating from surgery. But
forgive Mike Hulbert and Robert Gamez if they left Heron Bay
with their spikes barely touching the grass. Hulbert, a
41-year-old journeyman coming off one of the worst seasons of
his 16-year career, entered the Honda with a perfect record: He
had not made a cut in the six tournaments he entered this
season. At Heron Bay he made only four bogeys and finished 19th
at 12 under, seven shots behind Hart. Gamez, who at 31 seems
awfully young for a has-been, continued his comeback by placing
12th, his best finish in more than two years.
It was appropriate that Hulbert and Gamez reestablished
themselves at the Honda, which this year became a haven for
wannabes and used-to-bes. The Tour already has a John Deere
Classic. Last week it put on the Dear John Classic. The many
incarnations of the Honda, which traces its roots back to 1972
and Jackie Gleason, may include among its champions a Who's Who
of golf (Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Price,
Curtis Strange and Lee Trevino), but the tournament was jilted
this year by just about every current star. Only six of the top
30 and 25 of the top 100 players on the World Ranking played in
the nightcap of the South Florida doubleheader. In fact, were it
not for the second consecutive final-nine charge by Jim Furyk,
who had won the week before at Doral, Sunday's battle at Heron
Bay would've looked more like a Who's He of golf. Hart's closing
birdies gave him a final-round 65 and a 269 for the four days, a
shot better than J.P. Hayes and Kevin Wentworth, and two better
than Furyk and Brian Gay. Thank god they still put the players'
names on their caddies' backs.
Hart's final birdie saved the Tour from the embarrassment of
having a seldom invoked rule knock Gay out of a possible
playoff. Gay's birdie putt at the 17th hole hung on the lip
before falling in. According to Rule 16-2, a ball in such a
position, even one that is teetering, must fall within 10
seconds after the player reaches it. According to NBC videotape
Gay's putt didn't drop until 13 seconds after he approached. The
one-stroke penalty dropped him from a tie for second into a tie
for fourth. That's a difference of $88,933, if you're scoring at
home, more than Gay made all of last year. Never has anyone
uttered the words, "It was a great week for me, the best week
I've had," with less conviction than Gay did on Sunday.
Nestled between the newly fortified West Coast swing and a
four-tournament stretch that includes this week's Bay Hill
Invitational, the Players Championship and the Masters, the
Honda turned out to be a good week to take off. The TPC at Heron
Bay course designed by Mark McCumber, which has gotten more bad
reviews than What Planet Are You From?, doesn't help. Plopped on
a piece of Everglades flatlands--cows still graze on property
between the front and back nines--Heron Bay's only defense is
the wind. Even Tour nice guy Davis Love III, one of the few
stars who showed up last week, described the course as "boring"
and the tournament as "fading." He added, "They've got to do
something to get it back up."
Without the top players the Honda filled its 144-man field with
the freaks and geeks of Tour society, which, like nearby Palm
Beach, is stratified largely by money. Those players who finish
in the top 125 on the money list are exempt for the next year,
as are the top 35 finishers in the annual Q school in the fall
and the top 15 money winners on the Buy.com tour. Then come the
guys who can't plan their lives, the so-called Q-pluses. Before
they can play, they must wait and see what their exempted
colleagues do. Hulbert, who is Q-plus-two (he ranks second among
the outsiders), gets into more events than Perry Moss, a
30-year-old from Shreveport, La., who is Q-plus-six. Moss
straddles the line between those who sit and those who play. He
didn't get into the Honda until Charles Raulerson withdrew on
the Tuesday night of tournament week. "The whole year is going
to be like this," Moss says. "Sometimes in, sometimes out."
The Honda was Moss's fourth start this season. The next player
on this week's list, Brett Quigley (Q-plus-eight), has gotten
into only two tournaments. Three times this year, including last
week, Quigley has been first alternate and failed to get into
the tournament. Quigley, 30, awoke at his home in Jupiter, Fla.,
at 4:30 a.m. last Thursday. He arrived at the course at 5:45, as
if he had the first tee time. He might have. "Someone can
oversleep, get a flat tire on the highway, get sick overnight,"
That puts Quigley in an awkward position. Last Wednesday, for
example, Craig Bowden got sick and was up all night. He made it
to the clubhouse the next morning, although he seldom left the
bathroom. Quigley had to root for the food poisoning. When an
ashen-faced Bowden reached the 1st tee at 8:36 a.m., Quigley
stood on the practice green nearby, watching to make sure Bowden
took his first swing. "It sucks," Quigley says. "I feel like
there's a dark cloud over me. No one wants to see me. I've got
to know what everyone's doing--who's registered, who's coming in
When the morning tee times concluded, Quigley returned to the
clubhouse, ate another breakfast and worked out in the fitness
trailer. Around 11 he went back to the range to warm up again.
Quigley carried a sheet with the late tee times and took roll
until he accounted for all 72 players. Once he did that he
returned to the locker room, packed up and drove home. There is
a sliver of daylight for Quigley--literally. Once daylight
savings time begins next month, most fields expand from 144 to
For a veteran like Hulbert, being Q-plus-two is not as big a
crisis as it would be for a younger player. If they gave a Good
Guy Award on Tour, the unassuming Hulbert would have a shelf
full of trophies. Strange, the 2001 Ryder Cup captain, appointed
him as his assistant. In 15 years on Tour, Hulbert has won three
tournaments and averaged 32 starts per year. His iron man
tendencies cost him in '99, when in an attempt to keep his
exemption, he played in all 12 of the events between the PGA
Championship in August and the end of the season on Nov. 1.
"That was stupid, crazy," he says.
It didn't work, either. Hulbert finished 143rd on the money
list, with $264,564. The grind wore him down so badly that he
entered Q school with no fuel in his tank. Two 76s in the
six-round event left him tied for 129th, 12 strokes out of the
top 35. "I had to go, but I just didn't have it, mentally or
physically," Hulbert says. "If I didn't go, that doesn't look
What Hulbert means is that it wouldn't look good in the eyes of
tournament directors. He is one of four players on the Tour
Policy Board. He also has received two sponsor's exemptions this
season, at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and at the Phoenix
Open. "They say [Tour commissioner] Tim [Finchem] has
influence," Hulbert says. "He doesn't. He can't tell them, 'This
guy needs to get in.' But it helps me being on the board. I've
met all these directors in the last two or three years. I've
tried to help them out before I was in this situation. Nobody
wants to be in this spot. I'm trying to dig my way out."
Players help tournament directors by showing up, being nice to
the volunteers and happily playing in the pro-ams. Hulbert had
always done all of those things at the Honda, which is why
tournament director Cliff Danley held back his eighth and final
sponsor's exemption until he learned that Hulbert didn't need it.
Danley already had given an exemption to Gamez, who played in
three pro-ams last week, as he has done in the past. "He was
here for us when he didn't have to be," said Danley. Referring
to some of the other pros, Danley added, with a touch of
cynicism, "When they're not exempt, they're always there for you."
Gamez has played 19 rounds this year and been under par in 17 of
them. It is his best stretch since he slid a courtesy car into
an oak tree at the 1998 Kemper Open. "I was driving too fast,"
he says. "I'm lucky to be alive." A side air bag saved him,
although Gamez still bruised his liver and his spleen and
suffered an injury to his back that limited his ability to
practice hard until this year. "I realize that I was taking
everything for granted out there," Gamez says. "I figured I
would never be hurt bad enough to where I couldn't play. After
[the accident] I said, 'I'm going to start doing things
Playing a limited schedule, Gamez finished 208th on the '99
money list. His only exempt status this year is as a three-time
winner on Tour, which, roughly speaking, ranks him just ahead of
driving-range pros and concessionaires. Gamez finished 16th at
the Hope after shooting a 41 on the back nine on Sunday.
"Instead of trying to win," he says, "I was concentrating on the
A top 10 finish exempts a player into the next event. Last
Saturday when Gamez found himself tied for fourth after three
rounds, he vowed that he would play to win. He didn't, and he
finished a stroke out of the top 10, but his final-round 70 left
him fired up for his return to Bay Hill, where he has a 10-year
exemption as a past champion (1990). "I'm so close to being able
to win," Gamez says. "As long as I'm playing well, I hope the
sponsors will continue to look at me."
After being shut out at Doral, Hulbert spent a week at home, in
Orlando, which reinforced the lesson he had learned last season
about the restorative power of not playing. "I was excited about
coming down here," Hulbert said on Sunday evening, after the
Honda had ended. "There aren't too many people who play 16 years
and are excited about playing a practice round on a Monday
morning at quarter to eight. I was."
Hulbert loved how he had gone three under on Sunday's final nine
and had a 70-foot birdie putt on number 18 burn the edge of the
cup. Hulbert collapsed on his back when the putt didn't fall.
"It's a start," he said. "I know I can still play out here. I
know I can still win out here."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT AZMITIA/SUN SENTINEL/AP FLOP SHOT Hulbert, who hadn't made a cut all year, felt so good about finishing 19th that he took a tumble for the fans on 18.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG NOT A SECOND TO SPARE In the time it took to count to 10, Gay went from second to fourth and lost $88,933--more than he won in '99.
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT WISEMAN/THE PALM BEACH POST Hart raced up the leader board with birdies on the final four holes, which he thought might be enough to get him into a playoff.
Never has anyone uttered the words, "It was a great week for me,
the best week I've had," with less conviction than Gay.