THE SHARK'S END RUN
The great ball imbroglio may have been big news in Hartford, but
Greg Norman was making headlines back home in Australia for
another reason last week. A simmering feud between the Shark and
fellow Aussie David Graham boiled over when Norman questioned
Graham's effectiveness as captain of the International team that
will play the U.S. in the Presidents Cup, Sept. 13-15 at Robert
Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Va.
Norman's ill will toward Graham goes back to the inaugural
Presidents Cup, won 20-12 by the U.S. in 1994 at the same venue.
Norman, who came down with the flu on the eve of the match and
was forced to withdraw, showed up on the final day of the
competition to cheer on the International team. CBS television
producer Frank Chirkinian asked Norman if he would allow himself
to be wired for sound. When Graham found out, he killed the
idea. "The Presidents Cup is not Greg Norman's golf tournament,"
he said. "It's a 12-man team. It's not Greg's team." Norman was
steamed and remained so even after Graham tried to make peace.
Last week Norman appeared to be seeking his revenge when he told
reporters that this year's International team was "in a fog"
because members had heard hardly a peep from Graham. Taking
matters into his own hands, Norman said that after consulting
with Nick Price, he decided to call a team meeting for the
Monday before the British Open. And, yes, Graham is invited
should he care to attend. "I've talked to all the players, and
none of us know what's going on, not a clue," Norman said. "I
don't even know when I have to be there or what I have to do. We
haven't heard from our captain. I'm very concerned about it,
from a team point of view. You've got to get the camaraderie
Graham, shocked by Norman's criticism, blamed the PGA Tour for
failing to provide his team with additional information. Graham
said the team meeting in Great Britain is a good idea but added
that he had scheduled one for the Wednesday before the Players
Championship in March and only Craig Parry and Frank Nobilo
bothered to show up. As for Norman's other comments, Graham
would only say, "I'm not going to get into a spitting match with
him, because I can't win."
More than anyone, Deane Beman is responsible for transforming
the Senior tour from two exhibitions carrying a total purse of
$250,000 in 1980 to the $37 million, 44-tournament circuit that
it is today. Now that the 58-year-old Beman has retired as Tour
commissioner and rejoined the ranks of the players he once
ruled, he has been welcomed with something less than open arms.
Old animosities based on two decades of decisions from the
commissioner's office are one reason Beman has problems with
some of his peers. Another is Beman's ability to get into
virtually any event through sponsor's invitations instead of
having to play his way in like everyone else without an
exemption. His critics say that every time Beman accepts a
sponsor's exemption, a more qualified player is left out. On
that score, Beman has given them plenty of ammunition lately.
Starting in late May, Beman took sponsor's exemptions in three
straight Senior tour events, then withdrew after the first round
in all of them, citing chronic shoulder and back pain, thus
depriving someone else of the chance to play. Last week Beman
was also given a sponsor's exemption in the Kroger Senior
Classic, but he withdrew before the tournament began, opening a
spot for Bob Wynn, who finished 72nd.
Don't talk to Patrick Burke about the luck of the Irish. He's
Irish, of course, but hasn't had a lick of luck in more than a
month. His troubles began when Continental Airlines lost his
Cleveland Classics irons on the way from the Kemper Open in
Potomac, Md., to the Memorial tournament outside Columbus, Ohio.
He shot 75 with a borrowed set in the first round of the
Memorial and withdrew, then used Ben Crenshaw's Cleveland blades
during a futile attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open at the
sectional in Columbus a few days later. Continental offered
$1,200 (and some free flight vouchers) for the missing clubs,
but money was not the issue. The clubs were irreplaceable
because Cleveland no longer makes that model. "I told
Continental I wanted to play well to give them bad publicity,"
says Burke. It did not appear that he would have that
opportunity after his mother slammed his hand in a car door
early last week, bruising his fingers.
But Burke's luck did change at the Canon Greater Hartford Open,
at least for two rounds. He opened 70-67 to move into a tie for
fourth. Then things returned to normal. Last Saturday, Burke was
standing over a par putt on the 17th green when he heard a fan
say, "Bet he's going to miss." Burke did and smashed his putter
on a nearby cart path. At the 18th he tapped in with a sand
wedge for par and a 72. He shot 71 on Sunday and finished 18th.
Arnold Palmer should know by now that he's wasting his breath,
but when the scores go as low as they did at the Kroger in
Mason, Ohio, Palmer, among others, feels compelled to argue that
the tee boxes used by the Seniors are too close to the ladies'
markers, the pins are too accessible, the rough is too low, and
the greens are too slow.
Last year Mike Hill shot 64-66-66, a 17-under-par 196, to win
the Kroger, held on the 6,628-yard Grizzly Course at the Golf
Center at King's Island. Last week J.C. Snead opened with a
course-record 62, and Isao Aoki won for the second time this
season thanks to a 63 in the first round, followed by a 69 and a
66 for a 15-under 198. All of which is meaningless, Palmer
claims. "Shooting 65 means nothing," he says. "We need to
toughen up the courses and make the guys play a little bit.
That's the only way somebody can dominate, not by making courses
so everybody can play them."
Forget it, Arnie, the tour is not about to change. "We've got
people 70 years of age out there who have supported the Senior
tour from Day One," says Brian Henning, the Senior tour's vice
president of competition. "I'm not going to set up a golf course
that is going to embarrass them on a daily basis, and the young
people coming out have to live with that. We started out with
nothing, and now we're playing for $40 million, so we must be
doing something right."
Course setup will not be an issue this week during the U.S.
Senior Open, except for those who will complain that the
Canterbury Golf Club outside Cleveland plays too hard. Tougher
conditions at courses set up by the USGA explain in part why a
player such as Jack Nicklaus has two wins, two seconds and a
third in the championship since turning 50 in 1990. Palmer won
it once himself, in 1981.
Charlie Mechem bailed out the LPGA from 1991 to '95 after his
predecessor, Bill Blue, bombed as commissioner. Could he perform
the same kind of magic for the Cincinnati Reds if he is selected
as president Marge Schott's interim replacement?
Some in Cincinnati would like to see the 66-year-old Mechem try
to run the day-to-day operations of the Reds through the 1998
season, when Schott's suspension ends. Mechem has baseball
experience, having served on the board of the Philadelphia
Phillies when he was chairman and CEO of Taft Broadcasting,
which owned part of the team. He still wears a Phillies' 1980
World Series ring and sounds as if he might be interested should
the Reds come calling. "My view is whoever does the job would
have to be assured the authority to do it," Mechem says. "You
can't have Marge running around all the time."
Mechem already has a full plate. He is chairman of the board at
Cincinnati Bell, Arnold Palmer's personal business manager and
spends two days a month attending to LPGA business. But that
doesn't rule out a role with the Reds. "I'm a sucker in that
things that are good for the community, I like to do," he says.
THE SHORT GAME
Palmer will design a golf course that abuts Jack Nicklaus's
Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. "I haven't asked Jack for
permission," Palmer says. "He's done 'em in my backyard. Now
I'll do one in his."...Amazing what appearance money will do for
a sore back and a stuffy nose. Fred Couples and Nick Price last
week ended long layoffs by playing in the Canadian skins
game....Brian Barnes wants to wear shorts in the Senior Open but
won't push the issue, because the USGA frowns on such attire.
"I'm just a glorified Boy Scout," the once rebellious Barnes
says. "I don't want to make any waves."