Wild and Crazy
The dog days of the season produced the most entertaining golf
of the year
Ernie Els sat by a television in the Castle Pines locker room,
mesmerized as the International's unlikely climax unfolded.
Sergio Garcia watched in awe too. "This is unbelievable," Els
said, shaking his head. "I can't believe a guy can shoot 63 and
almost not win."
Els was talking about a frenetic finish during which Rich Beem
racked up seven birdies and an eagle, yet barely survived Steve
Lowery's birdie, eagle, double-eagle finish. But the
International wasn't the only thrilling tournament last weekend,
and Els could just as well have been referring to the entire
golf scene, as we were reminded again that the game is bigger
than its stars. Tiger Woods was nowhere in sight. Neither were
Phil Mickelson or Annika Sorenstam, yet Sunday was the most
exciting day of the season.
The International was an impossible Hollywood fantasy thanks to
its wacky (but a good wacky) modified Stableford system in which
players score points based on how they do on a hole. The system
turned what might have been a runaway by Beem, who birdied six
of the first 10 holes in the final round, into the stuff of
legend. "Besides Nicklaus and Watson in that British Open
, I don't know of any round that's gotten completely hairy
like the one today," said Beem. "It was wild."
Struggling to control his emotions after he'd finished ahead of
Lowery and led by one point, Beem watched Lowery narrowly miss a
putt at 18 that would've won the tournament. Then Beem tearfully
embraced his wife, Sara.
It was not the day's only dramatic ending. Mi Hyun Kim of South
Korea and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland both won after
surviving potential disasters. Kim splashed her tee shot on the
island-green 71st hole at the Wendy's Championship in Dublin,
Ohio. LPGA officials studied TV replays of her shot before
ruling that her ball hadn't crossed the hazard line. Forced to
replay her tee shot, Kim made a double bogey but saved par on
the final hole to earn her second victory in three weeks. "Golf
is a difficult game," Kim said. McDowell, the nation's top
college player last year at Alabama-Birmingham, shanked a bunker
shot over a green into a pond on the final nine but recovered to
make a par from a fairway bunker on the final hole to win the
Scandinavian Masters in Stockholm by a shot.
Elsewhere, Jay Delsing and Hubert Green made tournament-winning
putts as well. Delsing, who saw his four-shot lead in the Omaha
Classic evaporate, jarred a six-footer on the final hole to win
his second Buy.com tour event. His ailing father, Jim, who
played for the 1949 world champion New York Yankees, was
watching on TV from his home in St. Louis. "I thought, I hope I
make this for you, Dad," said Delsing. Green and Hale Irwin
endured a seven-hole playoff at a Senior tour event on Long
Island before Green, who had paused in the 9th fairway during
the final round to give himself an insulin shot, ended it by
making a 35-foot birdie putt.
Emotions ran highest in Pittsburgh at the Curtis Cup, the big
team event for women amateurs. The U.S. team held off a late
charge by Great Britain and Ireland to win 11-7, and it was
local hero Carol Semple Thompson, 53, who scored the clinching
point. She came from three down to win her singles match against
Vikki Laing, closing in style with a 27-foot birdie putt on the
final hole. "Carol played the strongest player on their team and
beat her," said a breathless Mary Budke, the U.S. captain.
Beem best embodied the day's emotions. Before the trophy
presentation, he rushed onto the 18th green, grabbed the
flagstick, twirled it around his head and removed the flag. Then
he fired the pin, javelin-style, into the back bunker.
Now that was wild.
Case closed on the debate over using the modified Stableford
scoring system at a Tour event. The fantastic finish at the
International, featuring Steve Lowery's double eagle at 17,
wasn't just great TV, but it was also great golf. Stableford
scoring is fun, fast-paced and conducive to heroic shots.
What's the best way to get an LPGA tour card for 2003? For
Miriam Nagl, it may be by giving up her card in 2002. Nagl, 21,
relinquished her LPGA membership last week rather than pay a
$15,000 fine for playing in a $60,000 Futures tour event in
Manalapan, N.J., instead of the LPGA's $1 million Wendy's
Championship in Dublin, Ohio. Even though the Futures is the
LPGA's developmental tour, the New Jersey tournament was
considered a conflicting event under LPGA rules. Nagl, whose
conditional status meant she probably would have gotten into the
Wendy's field and some other LPGA events this year, can win an
exemption on the 2003 LPGA tour by finishing among the top three
on the Futures' money list. She ranked third after winning
$3,600 in New Jersey.
Catrin Nilsmark turned heads at the Wendy's by wearing a skimpy
white halter top during the pro-am. When caddie Chad Walker
applied sunscreen to Nilsmark's exposed back midway through the
round, a volunteer asked if Walker was paid extra for that
service. "No," Nilsmark said, "that's his bonus."
High school freshman-to-be Joseph Bramlett, 14, of Saratoga,
Calif., became the youngest qualifier ever for the U.S. Amateur
by shooting a six-under-par 138 at Spring Creek Golf and Country
Club in Ripon, Calif. Asked if he dates, Bramlett said, "No, I
have a girlfriend. Her name is Golf."
The Curtis Cup was no war by the shore. Carol Semple Thompson
hosted the Great Britain and Ireland team for two days of golf
at her home course, Allegheny Country Club, and then threw a
dinner party for the players at her Sewickley home. Because
Thompson, 53, was playing with mostly college-age teammates on
the U.S. team, her GB&I counterparts gave her a blonde wig with
a ponytail so "I'd fit in better," Thompson said.
Thanks to a new tee at the par-5 8th hole, Castle Pines added 35
yards, making it, at 7,594 yards, the longest course on Tour.
It's 17 yards longer than Montreaux Golf and Country Club in
Reno, site of the Reno-Tahoe Open.
British Open champion Ernie Els brought the claret jug to Castle
Pines, where, at a Friday-night barbecue with friends and club
members, "everyone who wanted to had a drink out of it," Els said.
In the first round, Hank Kuehne reached the downhill, 644-yard
1st hole at Castle Pines with a 440-yard drive and a nine-iron
to 15 feet. He two-putted for birdie.
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COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL NOT SO FAST Beem thought he had won after making eagle at 17.
COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH/USGA VINTAGE PLAY Thompson was a perfect host, then beat her guests.