Golf

February 07, 1994

Slamming the Door

Some Guys are closers. They might not be prolific winners, but when they get in position to win, they do. Bill Glasson, nameless and faceless to many, is a closer. If Greg Norman had Glasson's makeup down the homestretch, Norman might have 25 Tour victories instead of 11.

The 33-year-old Glasson got his sixth career win at the Phoenix Open on Sunday by shooting a seven-under-par 64 when everyone else on the leader board was in neutral or reverse. Glasson birdied five of his final six holes in the third round to get within two strokes of the lead, then started the fourth with three straight birdies. He had two more on the front side, giving him 10 in 15 holes, and made the turn in 30 to take the lead.

"Which is pretty cool," said Glasson, sounding like a surfer and, with blond locks flowing, looking like one too. In fact, when Glasson joined the Tour as a bachelor in 1984, he listed surfing as an interest although he had never tried it. "I figured it might attract women," he says.

Despite appearances Glasson grew up tough in Fresno, Calif. A promising athlete, he would have played high school basketball, baseball or football had he not suffered cartilage damage to his left knee when he was 15. He eventually had four knee operations, the last one in '84.

But injuries continued to plague Glasson's career. As a result of the way he walked to compensate for his bad knees, he developed back pain, which became so acute by 1991 that he was considering cashing in a half-million-dollar insurance policy for permanent disability.

The most noteworthy occurrences in Glasson's feast-or-famine career, however, have been his victories and the way he has achieved them. Very simply, almost every time Glasson has had a piece of the lead in the fourth round, he has won. It happened first at the 1985 Kemper Open, in which he drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win by one. The fifth time came at the Kemper in 1992, after Glasson's back miseries had been relieved through physical therapy. The only time Glasson did not hold on in the fourth round was last year at the B.C. Open, when he was tied for the lead on the 15th tee but finished third, two strokes back. "It was a strange situation, because it had never happened before," he said on Sunday. "I don't get in the lead very often, but 1 pride myself on being able to take it home and not fold my tent."

He certainly didn't fold at Phoenix, where he increased his lead from one stroke to three with a birdie on the par-5 15th hole and then slammed the door by hitting what he called a junior seven-iron on the par-3 16th to within four feet and making the putt.

Glasson has the perfect makeup to perform under pressure: He is highly competitive but barely registers a pulse. The latter is evident when he flies his wife and two small children from Tour stop to Tour stop in his twin-engine Cessna. A pilot since 1986, Glasson has had a few close calls. The latest came two years ago over the Appalachian Mountains when his plane lost an engine because of a severe oil leak." He didn't say a word until I noticed that the propeller had stopped," says his wife, Courtney. "He brought it down into Morgantown nice and easy. Nothing really bothers Bill."

Who Are Those Guys?

Every first-time player or spectator at the Phoenix Open wants to know one thing: Who are all those men in tight-fitting midnight-blue velour tunics, enough silver and turquoise to start a sidewalk bazaar and hideous golf pants?

Well, they are the Thunderbirds, a proud fraternity of 306 Phoenix movers and shakers who make this tournament their raison d'‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢tre. The Hopi-inspired clothing, necklaces and belts they have worn since 1937 may look goofy, but the Thunderbirds are the main reason the Phoenix Open is the Tour's most successful regular event.

Because of the Thunderbirds' promotional zeal, Phoenix has far and away the biggest galleries. During last year's tournament, 361,000 spectators passed through the TPC of Scottsdale gates, well over 125,000 more than went to the next-best-attended event, the Canon Greater Hartford Open. And last Saturday 114,000 fans gathered on the spacious Scottsdale course, unofficially the largest one-day crowd in the history of golf.

The Thunderbirds aim to create a state fair atmosphere. Before official play begins there are three pro-ams, a long-drive contest, a putting contest, a juniors' clinic and a nine-hole tournament for the Tour wives in which their husbands caddie. On the course there is a food pavilion, and next to the 18th fairway is the Bird's Nest, a massive tent with four bars and a stage for musical acts. On Friday night some . 4,000 people entered the 56,000-square-foot Nest, contributing mightily to the week's estimated $150,000 in business. That kind of income has allowed the Thunderbirds to donate $6 million to charities over the years.

The members of this high-energy group are too busy to be self-conscious, as evidenced by the neon-and-plaid trousers they paired with their tunics on Wednesday's Wild Pants Day. "1 guess the reason for our success is our tradition and the fact that we are very competitive," said Mike Kennedy, a Phoenix lawyer who was this year's tournament chairman. "We are driven by the pride of doing the job better than our predecessors."

Despite having to dress like them.

Weighty Matters

Andrew Magee has given much of the credit for his fast start in 1994 to an off-season weight-training regimen, but the leading iron pumper on the PGA Tour is 34-year-old Keith Clearwater.

Clearwater, who has won twice in his seven-year career, lifts heavy weights five or six days a week, tournament or no tournament, whether he is out of contention or in the hunt. At every Tour stop he finds a gym where he can bench-press and do full leg squats with barbells loaded with more than 200 pounds.

Clearwater began the routine three years ago when he was rehabilitating a dislocated right shoulder. At the time the six-footer weighed 170 pounds, which he now describes as "skinny and soft." Today he is a solid 195 pounds, with the kind of bulging biceps almost never seen on a professional golfer.

"What it does for my golf game is really secondary," says Clearwater, who finished 44th on the '93 money list but shot 144 in the Phoenix Open to miss the cut. "I do it for the benefits it brings to my life—feeling better and looking better. But 1 also know that the discipline it takes to work out has made me a better golfer."

While training with light weights and high repetitions has gained popularity with players in recent years, pushing heavy iron has long been considered taboo for golfers. Two rebels were Frank Stranahan, an amateur player in the 1940s and '50s, and Gary Player, both of whom claimed bodybuilding-style work-outs added power to their games. Other players have blamed slumps on extra muscle. Johnny Miller maintains that he lost his swing after doing heavy work around his ranch in 1977. And Nick Faldo's foray into heavy lifting in 1991—when he gained more than 10 pounds of muscle—ended after a season of indifferent results. Faldo is now on a program geared more toward aerobic fitness and flexibility.

The fear that golfers will automatically lose their touch or get tight by working with heavyweights is baseless, insists Paul Scheuren, a PGA Tour physical therapist who works out heavy with Clearwater and the Senior tour's Jim Albus. "A good, strong, healthy muscle can't be bad for a golf game," says Scheuren. "As long as the player stretches, getting stronger will not affect his touch. I think training with heavy weights is good for guys on the mental side, too. It's a way to blow off a lot of stress, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting stronger gives you confidence. And that's probably the most important thing in golf."

An Ailing Friend

Lee Trevino's well-known caddie and longtime friend, Herman Mitchell, once again has serious health problems.

The 56-year-old, 318-pound Mitchell—who four years ago was hospitalized for heart failure brought on by obesity, retention of fluid and high blood pressure—is currently suffering from the effects of obstructing sleep apnea, a disorder that results in too little oxygen getting to the brain during sleep. For Mitchell it has led to memory loss, poor concentration, headaches and lethargy, which make it difficult for him to caddie. At the Senior Skins Game in Hawaii last week, Trevino had to call on Ted Makalena Jr., the son of the late Tour pro, to fill in for Mitchell.

Trevino and Mitchell have been together 18 years and are extremely close. When Trevino isn't on the tournament circuit, Mitchell usually stays in houses near the player's Connecticut, Florida or California residences and accompanies him during practice rounds. The two often engage in matches, and Trevino reports that Mitchell, who won the Tour's annual caddie championship in 1979, can still occasionally get around in par or under.

"I'm very worried about Herman," Trevino says. "He's weak, and he can't walk very far. He's been sick before, but this time I saw a different side. He doesn't look good to me." Just as he did during Mitchell's hospitalization in 1990, Trevino is paying the caddie's medical bills.

Mitchell is in the care of Dr. Lowell Adkins of Pompano Beach, Fla., who has performed a sleep study on Mitchell with a Continuation Positive Airway Pressure mask. The mask, which fits around the chest and neck and against the face, forces oxygen into the airway to keep it from closing during sleep. This week Adkins expects the results of the test, which will indicate whether or not the mask helps Mitchell's condition. If it does, Mitchell may be able to resume his work for Trevino.

Grinding It Out

It may be hard for golf fans to relate to, but PGA Tour members can fall victim to ennui, to dissatisfaction with playing a game for a living and to a sense that they are missing out on more important things. Last year such feelings almost swept one of the game's most earnest grinders, Gene Sauers, right off the Tour.

Sauers opened '93 as a 30-year-old with two career victories and $2.3 million in earnings. In each of his nine years on the Tour he had made more money than he did the previous season, culminating in '92 winnings of $434,566. Only one other player, Hale Irwin, has had a similar run.

But Sauers hit the wall. He had no Top 10 finishes in '93 and earned only $117,608 to finish a dismal 128th on the money list. Although that normally would have cost Sauers his Tour card, he got a break. He remained in the exempt Top 125 for 1994 because neither Bern-hard Langer (No. 23) nor Nick Faldo (No. 91) was a PGA Tour member, and because of a Tour rule that made the $26,550 won in the World Series of Golf by the 115th player on the money list—Joe Ozaki—unofficial. Because Ozaki played in the World Series on a sponsor's exemption, that money could not count ? toward computation of the Top 125.

Sauers says his malaise may have resulted from two disappointments in 1992—losing a four-hole sudden-death playoff at the Bob Hope despite making birdie on each hole, and finishing second at the PGA after leading. But the soft-spoken Savannah native believes what .happened was deeper than that. "I was sick of the grind," he said. "I didn't want to be out here. I have three kids, and I hate calling home instead of being there on their birthdays."

Sauers also knows, however, that that frame of mind will eventually run him off the Tour, and he realizes he is not ready to leave. "I told myself to improve my attitude and be grateful for what I have," he says. "Now I write notes on paper and talk into a tape recorder saying positive things like, 'Be nice to people today.' I've got a great job, and I'm going to give it all I've got. I feel I can get back into it."

Still, by staying in Arizona for the Tucson and Phoenix events (where he tied for 29th, and missed the cut, respectively), Sauers ran headlong into the kind of heartache that haunted him last year, missing the fifth birthday of his eldest son, Gene Jr. "He asked me if I was going to be home, and I had to tell him no," says Sauers.

PHOTOMICHAEL SCULLYGlasson got his sixth Tour win the same way he got the first five—by getting ahead, then getting better. PHOTOMICHAEL SCULLYFans flocked to the fairlike Phoenix Open in record numbers again, thanks to the Thunderbirds. PHOTOMICHAEL SCULLYClearwater claims the discipline he uses to regularly lift heavy weights has helped his game. PHOTORICHARD MACKSONTrevino and Mitchell (here, in 1981) have had one of the game's most enduring partnerships. PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)