SMALL BALL RISING
Two tours, same story: The short knocker ain't dead yet
The tortoise beat the hare again last week, a fable that this
time played out on two tours. At the Buick Invitational, Jose
Maria Olazabal vanquished the longest course in PGA Tour history
by birdieing the last hole with a layup on a par-5 (page G16).
This old-fashioned small ball was in character for Olazabal, who
in 2001 ranked 188th in driving distance, at 266 yards a pop, a
number that harkens back to the days of persimmon. At the
Senior's ACE Group Classic, on Sunday, the outcome was settled on
the 17th hole , a devilish par-5. Tom Watson blasted a 309-yard
drive and went for the green in two, but his bid for victory
found a watery grave. Shorter and more conservative, Hale Irwin
laid up and wedged his way to the title.
These were victories for the little guy, the increasingly
underestimated genre of player who gets by on guile and
proficiency from 100 yards in. Olazabal's win was an especially
welcome rebuttal to the pervasive belief that might makes right
in the modern pro game. At 7,607 yards Torrey Pines was a course
of unprecedented scale, but its outsized proportions actually
muted the effects of the new atomic balls and nuclear drivers.
It's counterintuitive, but courses are now becoming so long they
are beginning to favor the shorter hitter--or at least the shorter
hitter with a strong short game. When every player is forced to
lay up on a par-5--as happened on Torrey's revamped 18th--the
advantage on that hole shifts from the long hitter to the player
more proficient with his wedge and putter. Likewise, as par-3s
creep toward 250 yards and par-4s approach 500, fewer players
will reach the holes' well-fortified greens in regulation,
leading to a battle of the up-and-downs.
Courses are becoming not only longer but also more penal, as
Irwin is well aware. He was tied with Watson on Sunday when they
stepped to the 17th tee of the Club at Twin Eagles. "After Tom
hit that big drive," Irwin says, "I turned to my caddie and said,
'Good, I hope he goes for it now.'" Watson couldn't resist, and
he hooked a four-wood into a water hazard and made bogey. Irwin's
ensuing birdie iced the tournament. "There's more than one way to
skin a cat," he said.
The culture clash of short hitters on long courses will reach its
zenith at April's Masters. Augusta National has been retrofitted
with nastier bunkers and more than 300 additional yards. The
sweeping redesign moved short knocker Justin Leonard to grumble,
"Great, now only five guys have a chance to win the Masters." He
clearly didn't have a dinker like Olazabal in mind, even though
Ollie has won two green jackets--in 1994, when he finished nine
under, and '99 (eight under).
A new epoch began in the summer of 2000 when solid-core balls
accelerated the distance revolution. Suddenly the Olazabals of
the world were unable to keep up as the longest hitters
pulverized Augusta National's par-5s and exploited its shortish
par-4s. In 2001 Tiger Woods won his second Masters by going 16
under, while David Duval finished 14 under and Phil Mickelson 13
under. On a longer, harder Augusta National, par will be an
increasingly precious commodity--in fact, the bombers may be
forced to lay up on the revamped back-nine par-5s. Now Olazabal,
shaky driver and all, is back in the ball game, a point he drove
home at Torrey Pines, a new-age course that leveled the playing
by Sal Johnson
Were Tiger Woods playing this week at the Nissan Open, at which
he is winless in seven appearances, he could have inched closer
to another Jack Nicklaus benchmark: 0-fer nine in L.A.... ACE
Group Classic winner Hale Irwin has a Senior tour W in eight
straight seasons, one shy of Miller Barber's record
(1981-89).... Justin Rose's victory at the Nashua Masters was
his second on the South African tour in the past month.... The
field is set for the Feb. 20-24 World Match Play, restricted to
the top 64 in the World Ranking. Thumbs up: Rory Sabbatini, who
shot from 72nd to 61st by tying for fifth at the Buick, and Lee
Janzen, who climbed from 69th to 63rd over the last three weeks.
Thumbs down: Scott Laycock, who bogeyed the final hole at the
ANZ Championship in Sydney. A par would've put him in the field.
There was no Crosby weather at Pebble Beach this year, but it did
rain--spittle, that is. When rookie Pat Perez wasn't busy
excavating fairways with his three-wood, he seemed to spend an
awful lot of time hawking loogies. This unfortunate habit has
been popularized by Tiger Woods, always in the vanguard of any
new golf trend. Woods often seems eager to get the bitter taste
out of his mouth after a bad hole, and his profuse projectiles
have not gone unnoticed by the game's old guard. "Every time he
makes bogey, he stands on the end of the green and spits for the
whole world to see," says crusty Jim Thorpe, a 53-year-old Senior
tour regular. "It's totally disgusting."
The PGA Tour recently handed down stiffened penalties for slow
play. Might we see a new fine structure for excessive ptooeying?
"We've had discussions about [spitting] in player meetings,"
says Tour vet Blaine McCallister, 43. "We know it needs to
stop." McCallister enjoys a pinch between his cheek and gum
while hunting or fishing, but he eschews chewing tobacco during
Tour events. Ironically, the chaw-inclined tend to be more
courteous than those loosing tobacco-free loogies, like the
25-year-old Perez and Woods, 26. "There's an etiquette," says
Steve Pate, 40, a dedicated Skoal man. "Bunkers are all right.
It dries up in five minutes. Around the hole, not cool. In the
hole is definitely not cool, unless you're really trying to piss
Where all this spitting is going to lead is anybody's guess, but
McCallister perceives ominous signs. "Now I see a thousand
sunflower seeds on every green," he says. "Try putting over
During a weekend getaway to Las Vegas in November, Notah Begay
surprised his girlfriend, Apryl Sandoval, with a helicopter trip
to the Grand Canyon. After a picnic lunch he escorted her to a
scenic bluff, overlooking the Colorado River, went down on one
knee--"his left," says Sandoval--and popped the question. The
betrothed (above, moments after the engagement) are aiming for a
May 2003 wedding in Santa Fe, and they have a pretty good idea
what the cake's going to be. "What do we have in common? We love
chocolate, the darker the better," says Sandoval, a recent New
Mexico graduate who met Begay a year ago at a party at
Albuquerque Country Club. "Definitely the better European brands."
On Feb. 4, Nicholas Parker Gregory, son of LPGA vet Kristal
Parker, used a seven-iron to ace the 55-yard second hole at Mesa
(Ariz.) Golf Center, a clout witnessed by his grandparents Bill
and Carol Parker, among others. At three years and 37 days,
Little Nicky is believed to be the youngest player ever to make
a hole in one. "Heck, I played 27 years before I got my first
one," Kristal says.
Matt Gogel has BUICK on his hat but Kansas City in his heart, so
following his recent victory at Pebble Beach he pulled out of
his sponsor's eponymous invitational in San Diego and flew home
to Kansas to check on his ice-storm-ravaged house. With their
neighborhood's electricity still interrupted, Matt, his wife,
Blair, and baby daughter, Kimball, stayed in a hotel for two
nights until a generator could be hooked up at their place. Once
the Gogels were back in their house--only a couple of windows
were damaged--there was still the matter of tidying up all the
fallen trees in the yard. Enter another of Gogel's sponsors,
Davey Trees. "We had four trucks and an army of guys with chain
saws out here cleaning up," Gogel tells SI. "The neighbors
couldn't believe it."
Ben Crenshaw made his long-awaited Senior debut last week at the
ACE Group Classic, but his first round was derailed by a pair of
Bushes--former President George H.W. and his son Jeb, the
governor of Florida. Both men are friends of Crenshaw's, and
upon arriving at the 17th hole, they moseyed onto the fairway to
say hello. One under par at the time, Crenshaw promptly bogeyed
17 and then made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole for a
smooth 76. "I don't care what I shot," said Crenshaw, who
finished 43rd, "at least I got to see the president and the
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Like Olazabal, Irwin (right) had the edge when the play was a wedge.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: GARY LOCKE
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTO COURTESY OF SANDY HENRIE
Phil Mickelson has no hope of dethroning Tiger Woods until he
learns to bring Woods's intensity to every round. The disparity
was obvious last week, when Tiger clawed from the cut line to a
top five, while Lefty packed it in, again.
VOTE AT golfonline.com
With the PGA tour visiting Torrey Pines and Riviera in
back-to-back weeks, which retooled course would make a better
host for the U.S. Open?
LAST WEEK: At this moment, who is the No. 1 South African golfer,
Ernie Els or Retief Goosen?
Els 50% Goosen 50%
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