Here it is May, the European Tour has held 12 official events,
and Fred Couples leads the Order of Merit by $135,000 over Robert
Karlsson of Sweden. Two places back is Nick Price, the No. 1
player in the world. Couples and Price may look great on the
marquee, but they have played in only two European events this
season, neither of them in Europe. Couples won the Dubai Desert
Classic and the Johnnie Walker Classic in the Philippines
back-to-back in January, and Price finished tied for third and
second, respectively, in those events. Since then nobody has come
close to taking command of the European Tour, and the main reason
is obvious: Nobody has been playing the European Tour, where
courses and conditions are generally worse than they are here.
Colin Montgomerie, the No. 1 player in Europe in 1994, has entered
three events. Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros have played two
each. Jose Maria Olazabal has played one. European Tour insiders
fear that Nick Faldo's success on the PGA Tour will lead to an
exodus by Montgomerie, Langer and Olazabal.
Asked if he worries about a domino effect, European Tour
executive director Ken Schofield says, ``Our tour is not about
any one player or players. It has not been and never will be.''
It hasn't? The European Tour is not about Faldo, Ballesteros,
Langer, Montgomerie and Olazabal? Schofield is kidding himself if
he believes that. He must face the fact that behind that group of
elite players, there are no rising stars. Steven Richardson, who
played in the 1991 Ryder Cup, is currently 71st on the Order of
Merit. Peter Baker, who was 3-1 at the Belfry in 1993, is 81st.
That leaves Andre Bossert, Alexander Cejka, Andrew Coltart, Adam
Hunter, Karlsson and Jarmo Sandelin to take up the slack. Those
are hardly household names, even in Europe.
``We are developing a broader base of champions,'' Schofield
says. ``Unlike some, I believe the batch back in Europe is going
to be very competitive.''
It had better be. If not, Ken Schofield will have little more than
the European equivalent of a Nike Tour on his hands.
While Ben Crenshaw was coming apart emotionally on the final hole
of the Masters three weeks ago, his regular caddie, Linn
Strickler, was patching himself together physically.
Strickler, who has caddied for Crenshaw in Tour events for the
last three years but defers to Carl Jackson at Augusta, got so
excited when Crenshaw's 12-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole
dropped that he leaped up to touch the ceiling of his Clearwater,
Fla., home. He forgot that he was standing beneath a ceiling fan.
The celebratory leap resulted in deep cuts on his left wrist and
hand. ``On the last hole I was still pulling incredibly hard for
Ben,'' Strickler said last week at the Houston Open, where he was
back on Crenshaw's bag, ``but I had to do it from the bathroom
sink, because I was bleeding profusely.''
Jim Thorpe experienced a thrill in Houston when he noticed that
Charlie Sifford, the first black to play regularly at the top
levels of professional golf, was following his threesome.
``I saw him with that cigar, and he said, `Man, I got to come
over and give you some support. Because you're the only one left
now,'" said Thorpe, who as a teenager during the 1960s watched
Sifford play at the Greater Greensboro (N.C.) Open. ``It made me
feel good. I also felt nervous. I really wanted to play well for
him.'' Thorpe did play well, shooting 69 for the round. (He
finished the tournament 32nd.)
The 72-year-old Sifford, who lives in a suburb of Houston, plays
sparingly on the Senior tour and is currently helping care for his
wife, Rose, who has leukemia. Thorpe said there was a sense of
melancholy in their meeting.
``For him it's discouraging to see only one black player
playing,'' said Thorpe, who is 46. ``He told me, `I feel like I've
done a lot, but still, I just haven't done enough.' I said,
`Charlie, you can only do so much. It's up to the minority kids to
help themselves. The doors have been opened, the stage has been
set. Now they have to perform.'"
A Swedish Sequence
Carin Hjalmarsson, who was a second-team All-America for the
University of Tulsa in 1990 and finished fifth at the LPGA
qualifying school last October, is on track to become the fourth
Swede in eight years to win LPGA Rookie of the Year honors. Her
predecessors are Liselotte Neumann (1988), Helen Alfredsson
(1992) and Annika Sorenstam (1994).
Hjalmarsson (pronounced YALL-mar-son) tied for seventh last month
at the Pinewild Women's Championship in Pinehurst, N.C., and
finished 18th in the Sprint Championship last week at the LPGA
International in Daytona Beach. With two other top-20's and 168
points, she leads Pat Hurst (115) and Tracy Hanson (93) in Rookie
of the Year standings.
Hjalmarsson is living mostly out of a suitcase, having entered all
seven full-field LPGA events this year. For now her main goal is
to keep her playing card so that her fiance, Stefan Koch, can quit
his club-pro job in Sweden and caddie for her in 1996.
Swinging on Thin Ice
Peter Jacobsen, who has clearly been the best player in the
world in 1995, credits many things for his improved performance:
a dairy- free diet, weightlifting, keeping his head steadier
when he swings, extra work on his short game and the urgency and
perspective he gained by turning 40. But how about thinking that
he is on thin ice? Jacobsen has used that image to create the
almost robotic consistency with which he is striking the ball.
Always a solid tee-to-green player, Jacobsen would lose his
groove when his lower body became overactive in his forward
swing. That's a flaw common among players who shaped their
swings in the late '60s and '70s, when emphasis was placed on
``driving the legs'' through the hitting area. Johnny Miller,
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf were the model members of this
generation of players whose swings featured sliding hips, knees
bent through impact and finishes in the so-called reverse C
Such a swing generates plenty of club head speed and is still used
by stylists such as Fuzzy Zoeller, Bruce Lietkze and Payne
Stewart. But the prevalent belief on the Tour today is that it is
too dependent on timing and is prone to occasional wild shots,
particularly big blocks to the right. These days the prototype
forward swing features quiet legs and vigorous rotation of the
upper body. While this action does not generate as much power as
the old swing, it is deemed more accurate and virtually eliminates
wild shots. Among the first to trade in the old swing for the new
were Curtis Strange, Nick Faldo and Price, and their success has
led many more to follow suit.
Jacobsen has been in transition between the two swings for
several years, and his efforts started to pay off last season.
He employed visualization to cement the change. Imagining his
legs to be a fixed base, he aims slightly left of the target and
rotates over the ball with his upper body. To further ensure
that his legs act as stabilizers and not initiators, he imagines
himself swinging on a frozen lake, with only a one-inch layer of
ice. ``I know if I push off hard with my lower body, I'm going
to go through the ice,'' Jacobsen says.
Instead his earnings--$873,317 through last week--are going through