Most Improved Player
Guys like Brian Gay are supposed to be obsolete on the
chicks-dig-the-long-ball PGA Tour. In a world of home run
hitters, Gay pops singles to the opposite field. Yet if the Tour
gave an award for most improved player, Gay, a soft-spoken
Alabamian, would win hands down.
It has gone largely unnoticed, but Gay, a seven-year pro in his
third season on the big Tour, is 39th on the money list ($1.2
million). He is known mostly as the poor guy who waited three
seconds too long for a hanging birdie putt to fall (10 seconds is
the limit) on the 71st hole of last year's Honda Classic. Gay was
assessed a one-stroke penalty, bogeyed the final hole and came in
fourth--instead of tied for second--at the time the best finish of
his career. He bounced back from that disappointment to go from
102nd in earnings at the end of the 2000 season to one good week
from the top 30 and a spot in the Nov. 1-4 Tour Championship.
How has he done this while ranking 190th (266 yards) on Tour in
driving distance? Like Tom Kite a generation ago, the 5'10",
155-pound Gay seldom misses a fairway (75%, 14th best on Tour) or
a green (67%, 76th) and is deadly from 100 yards in (fifth in
putting). Also like Kite, he's emerging as a top pro a little
later than his peers. (Gay will turn 30 on Dec. 14.)
A two-time All-America at Florida, in 1992 and '93, Gay led
Gators teams that won four SEC titles and an NCAA championship,
while he won the SEC individual crown twice. "In terms of
championships, his record at Florida is as good as anybody who
has played here," says Gators coach Buddy Alexander. "Brian is a
very underrated player. He's an unassuming guy with an unassuming
game. His golf IQ is extremely high, and his short game was
always Tour caliber."
Gay succeeds with consistency. Since the Genuity Championship in
March he has made the cut in 19 of 22 starts and has had four top
10 finishes. He's also plays well on Sunday. A final-round 65
lifted him to second, behind Sergio Garcia, at the Colonial, and
he closed with a 69 to come in fifth in New Orleans and with a 65
to end up sixth at the Buick Open.
Short is a relative term on Tour. Gay's normal drive is only 13
yards--about one club--below the Tour average but as many as 40
yards shorter than the long guys hit the ball. "I'd like to
drive farther," Gay says. "So many weeks it seems as if I can't
win even if I play really well because of the way courses are
Says fellow pro Paul Goydos, "If you're 190th in driving
distance, you've got to be a good putter, a pretty good middle-
and long-iron player, and smart to compete. Brian is like Loren
Roberts. Everybody talks about Loren's putting, but he's fabulous
with his middle and long irons. Brian has brains. He knows what
he's doing, and he's improving every year."
Although Gay enjoys his time at home in Orlando with his wife,
Kimberly, and their two-year-old daughter, Makinley, he intends
to play the final four tournaments of the season in an effort to
crack the top 30. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't.
"It has been a successful year regardless of how I finish," he
says. "There's been pressure, but it's been fun."
Pine Valley Goes Public
Pine Valley has been the top-ranked course in the U.S. for 16
years, but since the club's opening in 1922, only its members,
who these days number about 1,200, and their guests have had the
chance to play the George Crump-designed course and enjoy a bowl
of the club's renowned turtle soup. That will change on
successive Mondays, Oct. 15 and 22, when the exclusive men's
club in Clementon, N.J., will be open to the public for the
On Sept. 25, Pine Valley announced that to raise money for the
Twin Towers Fund of New York City, which benefits the families of
the firemen, policemen and other uniformed personnel who died in
the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the club would
allow 140 golfers to play the course on Oct. 15 for a greens fee
of $1,000 each, with the proceeds going to the fund.
The club was overwhelmed with almost 2,000 requests from around
the world, and less than 24 hours later all the spots were
filled. When Pine Valley member Barney Adams found out the news
on the following day, he immediately speed-dialed the main number
for an hour. "It was like trying to get front-row tickets to the
Eagles. I wanted to participate, but I couldn't get through,"
Adams said from his house in Dallas. "I heard one of the members
drove to the course and wrote a check for $5,000 and then told
the club to give his spots to someone else."
Because of the heavy response, Pine Valley added the second day,
permitting 124 more golfers to play a round. "I've been a member
at Pine Valley for 20 years, and I've never been more proud to
be a member there than I am now," said Adams, founder of Adams
Golf. "You talk about a bastion of guys in funny clothes and
poke fun at the exclusiveness of the club, but in a difficult
time this first-class organization has come through to do a
C-Thru Grip a Clear Winner
The future of golf grips is clear, and saying so is not a
transparent attempt to hype the most unusual equipment innovation
of the year: the C-Thru grip (c-thruputters.com). Manufactured by
Percise Golf in Pomona, Calif., and distributed by Mickey Novak,
a veteran clubmaker based at the David Leadbetter Academy in
Orlando, the C-Thru is made of Vulcathane rubber and is
Available only in putter grips, the C-Thru is soft, tacky and
water repellent. Almost as important to marketers, a logo put on
the butt end of a shaft is visible through the grip. The grip is
already being seen on Tour. Charles Howell used one at the
Greater Milwaukee Open, in which he finished second. John Cook
played with a C-Thru over the logo of his alma mater, Ohio
State, when he won the Reno-Tahoe Open last month. Mike Hulbert
opted for the Stars and Stripes at the Texas Open. "As long as I
keep one-putting, I'm leaving it on," Hulbert says. Semiretired
Tour player Brad Bryant, who's helping Novak by promoting the
grip among his peers, used C-Thrus tinted with various colors
and emblazoned with his nickname, Dr. Dirt, on his irons at the
B.C. Open in July. "I got a lot of comments," Bryant says.
"Everybody thought they were cool."
Novak says he's adding two putter-grip designs and hopes to come
out with Tour-caliber grips for irons and woods. "The first ones
were good for amateurs who don't swing too hard," he says, "but
the grips were a little too spongy for better players."
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Gay, whose deft short game makes up for a lack of length, hopes to qualify for the Tour Championship.
COLOR PHOTO: L.C. LAMBRECHT Pine Valley allows women only on Sundays after 3 p.m.
VAN'S TOP 10 All-Men's Clubs
When women's groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the
media came down hard on Southern Dunes Golf Club, a private,
Fred Couples-designed course near Phoenix, for permitting only
men on its fairways, I wondered: How come no one complains about
all the other clubs (a few phone calls turned up more than 20 in
the U.S.) where women are not welcome? Here are my top 10
men-only clubs, ranked by their level of male chauvinism.
1. Burning Tree
Opened in 1922 and only 10 miles from the White House, the club
was a favorite of presidents Nixon, Ford and Bush Sr. Burning
Tree has never had a woman guest player, not even Associate
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who's a pretty good golfer. Women
are allowed on the grounds once a year--to buy Christmas gifts
in the pro shop.
2. Bob O'Link
Highland Park, Ill.
Wives may drop off their husbands but aren't permitted to get
out of the car. There's no dress code at the Bob, where members
have been known to play in only their shorts and shoes.
3. Preston Trail
The club doesn't take phone calls from women and has two
unwritten rules (created specifically to restrain member Mickey
Mantle): No driving a cart inside the leather and no nude dining.
4. Pine Valley
When Jack Nicklaus played here on his honeymoon, his bride,
Barbara, had to drive around the perimeter of the property to
catch a glimpse of him. Pine Valley has made some strides. It
now permits women to play--on Sundays after 3 p.m.
When a camera crew from CNNSI tried to interview Butch Harmon,
the pro at the time, a female producer was stopped at the front
gate and then escorted to a rear entrance. Tiger Woods wore a
shirt bearing the Lochinvar logo when he won the 1996 U.S.
6. Garden City
Garden City, N.Y.
The venue for the 1902 U.S. Open and many early U.S. Amateurs,
Garden City permits women on the back patio for receptions and
on the course to view tournaments, but doesn't allow them to get
too comfortable. There is only one ladies' room, and it's in the
The club was used for U.S. Open sectional qualifying until the
USGA got religion in the wake of the Shoal Creek scandal of
1990. Jerry O'Neil, a former member who wrote a $1.6 million
check (it's framed and hanging in the clubhouse) to build the
club, ruled Sharon for years and is said to have rejected
emergency medical equipment on the premises by saying, "Not as
long as we have a waiting list."
8. Wolf Creek
No women allowed, though they can drop off their spouses in the
parking lot. Nevertheless, Tour players Woody Austin, Matt
Gogel, Tom Pernice and Tom Watson are regulars, as was baseball
Hall of Famer George Brett.
9. Bear Creek
Owner Leo Bradley makes no bones about it: "We cater to half the
family." Bear Creek has hosted Colorado PGA Section events, but
the club will probably drop out of the rotation because two
woman pros entered a Colorado section tournament this year at
10. Gator Creek
Once known for big-money games and shirtless guys who parked
their carts at the edge of the greens, the club is beginning to
attract a more discerning clientele, which explains why a member
was recently suspended for relieving himself off the porch of
Freezing the Ryder Cup rosters so that the players who qualified
for the 2001 team will play in 2002 is a mistake. What happens
if Texas Open winner Justin Leonard--or anyone else not already
on either of the teams--reels off four or five victories before
next September? It won't only be silly but also unfair to leave
that player home.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only golfers to win two or more consecutive Texas
Opens. Leonard prevailed in 2000 and '01, Melhorn in 1928 and
'29, and Palmer in '60, '61 and '62.
Which weighed most heavily in the Ryder Cup postponement: the
logistical difficulties of international travel, as the PGA
claims, or Tiger Woods's avowed fear of flying abroad?
Woods's fear 66%
--Based on 1,780 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Do you agree or disagree with the decision to
freeze the Ryder Cup rosters? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
SYNONYMS for a GOLF WRITER
Animal, chop, hack, greenfly, media scum, noise, talking dog,
With four events to go, the race for Senior tour player of the
year is the tightest since the tour's inception in 1983. Here
are the contenders.
$ RANK MAJORS WINS
Larry Nelson 4th 0 4
Bruce Fleisher 2nd 1 3
Allen Doyle 1st 1 2
Hale Irwin 3rd 0 2
Bruce Lietzke 16th 0 2
M. McCullough 11th 0 2
Gil Morgan 5th 0 2
Jim Thorpe 6th 0 2