Back in Business
Heath Slocum, rebounding from a major illness, is burning up the
In December 1997 Heath Slocum never imagined that in 3 1/2 years
he would be one of the hottest golfers on the planet. Back then
it took all his strength to do more basic things, such as
dragging his aching body out of bed.
This year Slocum, 27, has won two of his last three starts on the
Buy.com tour and come in third in the other. During that stretch
he has gone 106 holes without a bogey. One more victory and he
will receive a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour. Even if
that does not happen, Slocum is so far ahead on the Buy.com money
list--he has earned $232,390, $49,899 more than runner-up Jonathan
Byrd--that he's a lock to finish among the top 15, which will get
him a pass to the big Tour next year.
That's a far cry from the waning days of '97, when Slocum, only a
year removed from his All-America senior season at South Alabama,
was wasting away with an undiagnosed case of ulcerative colitis,
a disease of the lower colon. "I actually thought the boy was
going to die," says Jack Slocum, Heath's father.
Watching his weight drop from 150 to 122 pounds in only a few
months and needing to be fed intravenously was startling to the
5'8" Slocum, who had been a star athlete all his life. He had
been the starting point guard as a ninth-grader at Milton (Fla.)
High, and had won two of the first three college golf tournament
he played in. After contracting colitis on Thanksgiving in '97,
he didn't play golf again for a year and a half. "I thought I
had simply gotten sick, but I stayed sick for four months," says
Slocum. "When a specialist told me I had ulcerative colitis, I
had no clue what it was. You don't feel like eating because
everything goes straight through you. My stomach cramped, and
some days arthritis ran through my joints and I literally could
not get out of bed. I felt like a 60-year-old man, and I was 24."
Slocum, who was living in Pensacola, Fla., didn't get out of the
house much. When he did, it usually was to visit his doctor or a
pharmacy. "I missed being outside," he says, "but anyone with
colitis will tell you that you don't want to get too far from a
bathroom." After his disease was diagnosed, Slocum controlled it
with medication. He started practicing again midway through the
'99 season and entered several mini-tour events, but he lacked
the stamina to play well.
The key moment in Slocum's recovery came in August 1999, when he
was in Atlanta playing a series of mini-tour events run by his
father, a longtime golf pro. While he was there, Slocum's
stepmother, Kay, mentioned his condition to her gynecologist, who
referred Heath to Dr. Jack Koranski, who specializes in colitis.
He changed Heath's medication, and Slocum quickly improved. Able
to work hard on his game without tiring, he reached the final
stage of Q school last year. He missed earning a card by three
strokes but clinched a spot on the Buy.com tour, on which last
month he won the Greater Cleveland Open and finished third in the
Dayton Open. Two weeks ago, he won the Knoxville Open. "Heath is
riding a 50-foot wave now," says Knoxville runner-up Keoke
Even though Slocum is back to 150 pounds, he's not a long hitter,
but he hits straight and is deadly with a fairway wood or a
wedge. He can't wait for a crack at the big Tour, whether this
year or next. "It has been a long time coming for him," says his
father, "but he's right where he should be. He's got game."
California Hit by Killer Disease
Earthquakes. Landslides. Wildfires. Droughts. Next up for
California: a eucalyptus blight that threatens to ravage golf
courses around the state.
How bad could it be? At Los Serranos Country Club in Chino Hills,
it looks as if a hurricane had blown through. Eucalyptus trees
lay in ruin everywhere at the landmark club founded by tennis
great Jack Kramer and home to the Nissan Open qualifier. The club
has cut down 1,800 of its beloved eucalyptus trees and another
1,200 are marked for removal, turning its two courses from
forested chutes into open links land. "Nobody's panicking," says
David Kramer, Jack's son and the club's general manager. "There
aren't any trees at St. Andrews, and last I heard they still play
Still, the blight is serious. It's similar to the Dutch elm
disease that devastated the Northeast in the 1960s and '70s. In
California red gum eucalyptus trees from San Francisco to San
Diego have been infested. The perp is a lerp, a pinhead-sized
insect called the red gum lerp psyllid, the presence of which was
detected in L.A. three years ago. The lerp strips the sweetly
pungent tree of its leaves, making it susceptible to disease and
giving it a bare, burnt appearance. Researchers believe the pest
came from Australia, possibly along with smuggled agricultural
Other Southern California courses have also lost trees, though
not on the scale that Los Serranos has. Industry Hills, a 36-hole
complex east of Los Angeles that hosted U.S. Open qualifying in
May, has cut down about 300 trees, and thousands more are dead,
according to director of golf Dave Youpa. Revered courses like
Bel-Air, Los Angeles and Riviera have predominantly blue gum
eucalypti, which are less susceptible to the red gum lerp.
In an effort to control the blight, a University of California
researcher brought in a parasitic wasp, one of the lerp's
predators in Australia, but the wasp didn't proliferate. One
insecticide that stops the lerp is too costly and time-consuming
to save more than a few trees. Results of a pesticide injected
into the ground have been spotty. Even chopping down infected
trees isn't cheap. Los Serranos will spend $500,000 on removal
and replanting with Canary Island pines and ash trees.
Ultimately, no eucalyptus may be safe. Janet Hartin, an
environmental horticulturist at UC Davis, says that while the
blue gum is more resistant to the red gum lerp, it is not
entirely safe. "So there is some cause for alarm at Riviera," she
says. --Tom Cunneff
As the 15-year-old Wongluekiet twins, Aree and Naree, teed it up
in last week's Jamie Farr Kroger Classic in Toledo, one LPGA
veteran was heard to say, "What are they doing here?" Duh.
Longtime tournament director Judd Silverman has always given
sponsors' exemptions to promising amateurs. In pro golf it's
called investing in the future.
When Tiger Woods was an amateur, he received invitations to play
in the Nissan and Western Opens and the Byron Nelson Classic.
Guess which Tour stops he hasn't missed since turning pro?
Silverman's amateur invitees have included Vicki Goetze-Ackerman,
Emily Klein, Grace Park and Meg Mallon. As a group they have won
17 LPGA titles, and Mallon never misses the Jamie Farr. In 1997
Silverman gave a sponsor's exemption to a 19-year-old Korean no
one had ever heard of. Se Ri Pak returned last week to win the
Farr for the third time in four years.
Aree finished 51st and Naree missed the cut, but that's not what
they'll remember about their week with the pros in Toledo.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER At this week's Buy.com Wichita Open, Slocum is aiming for his third victory in four starts.
The tradition-rich Western Open didn't need a boost--not with
Tiger Woods in the field--but it got one anyway by awarding
berths in the British Open to the top eight finishers not
otherwise exempt. The extra story line was exciting, as was
Augusta National's now abandoned policy of inviting every player
who won a Tour event, even the guy who won the week before the
What do these players have in common?
They won the same major in different centuries. Taylor took the
British Open five times from 1894 to 1909, Vardon the British
six times from 1896 to 1914, and Woods the Masters in 1997 and
2001 and the PGA in 1999 and 2000.
Who choked the worst in a major?
2001 U.S. Open 4%
'89 Masters 4%
'96 Masters 41%
Jean Van de Velde
'99 British 51%
--Based on 8,976 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Will Woods win next week's British Open? Vote at
Synonyms for: two-iron
Avis, the big one, cleek, deuce, dos, for pros only, the knife,
master blaster, stud stick.
Ladbrokes of London sent off Woods as a 16-to-1 shot at the 1997
Masters, his first major as a pro, and he won by a tournament
record 12 shots. He has never been listed at higher odds in a
Grand Slam event since. Here are the odds on Woods in the last
MAJOR FINISH ODDS
'01 British -- 2 1/4 to 1
'01 U.S. Open T12th 2 to 1
'01 Masters 1st 2 1/2 to 1
'00 PGA 1st 6 to 5
'00 British 1st 9 to 4
'00 U.S. Open 1st 3 to 1
'00 Masters 5th 7 to 1july 16, 2001
VAN'S TOP 10
Golf is not only a game but it's also a business, one that
annually generates sales of $5 billion worldwide. Last year $840
million of that was spent on clubs, balls and other items made
by Callaway Golf, whose founder and chairman, Ely Callaway, died
last Thursday of pancreatic cancer at age 82. Here's how
Callaway ranks on my list of the 10 people who have had the
biggest impact on the golf industry.
1. ELY CALLAWAY In a decade he took his company from nowhere to the
top by blowing the doors off the competition with the oversized
Big Bertha driver and then going public, in 1992. He was also the
first to offer an oversized titanium wood. Ely's supernova of a
success story is unmatched in golf.
2. TIGER WOODS Winning six majors by age 25 helped make him the
world's most sought-after product endorser. (Woods's off-course
income is estimated to be $54 million a year.) In his five years
on the Tour, prize money has nearly tripled, and whenever he
plays, TV ratings are on average 115% higher.
3. KARSTEN SOLHEIM An innovative genius whose Ping putters have
been used by more tournament winners than any other putter in
history, he also invented investment-cast, perimeter-weighted
irons, now the industry standard.
4.GARY ADAMS Purists initially hated everything about the metal
wood, which Adams designed and popularized for TaylorMade in the
early '80s, but it hit the ball so much farther and straighter
that within 10 years about the only place you could find a wooden
club was in the bargain barrel.
5. ROBERT H. DEDMAN The chairman of ClubCorp, he parlayed a single
country club into assets valued at $1.6 billion, including more
than 220 courses, among them such jewels as Pinehurst, Homestead
and Mission Hills.
6. ROBERT TRENT JONES SR. He designed and built more than 500
courses, and turned the golf architect job into a respected--and
profitable--profession. Many of his best courses are public,
bringing the country club experience to the people.
7.ROBERT MOLITOR The expression that ball has personality was
seldom heard after Molitor, an engineer at Spalding, developed
the first cut-proof two-piece ball in 1968.
8. DEANE BEMAN As commissioner he turned the PGA Tour into a money
machine; purses grew from $8 million when he started, in '74, to
$56 million when he retired 20 years later. (They total $184
million today.) He also created the network of Tour-owned TPC
courses that host 22% of the circuit's events.
9. ERNIE SABAYRAC A sales rep for Wilson, MacGregor, Foot-Joy and
Izod, he introduced selling soft goods, spiked shoes and logoed
products at on-course golf shops. In January 1954 Sabayrac sold
shirts and shoes out of the trunk of his car to wintering club
pros in Dunedin, Fla., a practice that was the genesis of the
annual PGA Merchandise Show.
10. EDWIN WATTS Golf retailing left the cozy--and
high-priced--confines of country club shops thanks to Watts, his
brother, Ronnie, and their partner, Kenny Cook. Since 1976 they
have created a national chain of 48 discount stores, enabling
golfers to buy brand-name equipment at a reasonable price.