A NEW KENTUCKY HOME
Mark Brooks was not the only big winner last week. Valhalla Golf
Club and Louisville made out pretty well, too. PGA of America
officials confirmed that the PGA Championship will return to
Valhalla in 2000. The 10-year-old course will follow Augusta
National (the Masters), Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews
(British Open) on the Grand Slam rotation that year. Clearly the
PGA brass is more concerned with the bottom line than with a
prestige address for the fourth major of the new millennium.
"It's pretty hard to say this is a place you wouldn't want to
come back to," says Jim Awtrey, the association's CEO. "The
minimum is a four-year rotation. We have an opening in the year
What Valhalla lacked in tradition it made up in numbers and
goodwill. Before counting income from concessions and souvenirs,
the PGA netted $6 million last week, which more than justifies a
second $2 million payment due Valhalla founder Dwight Gahm. That
will increase the PGA's stake from 25% to 50% of the club.
Louisville proved to be the kind of Middle America market that
has embraced the championship in the past. The PGA hit home runs
from 1991 to '94, when the event was held at Crooked Stick
(Indianapolis), Bellerive (St. Louis), Inverness (Toledo) and
Southern Hills (Tulsa), but has struck out in larger cities,
particularly those that already host a PGA Tour event. Last year
the PGA at Riviera in Los Angeles was a bust, and next year's
championship, at Winged Foot outside New York City, might also
be poorly attended. (Half the tickets remain unsold, while
Valhalla sold out a full year before the championship.) "We
didn't have this many people for the whole tournament in L.A.,"
said Payne Stewart during Tuesday's practice round. "They took
it for granted. It shows that the PGA needs to go into new
The PGA will try another new city in 1998, when the championship
will be played at Sahalee Golf Club in Redmond, Wash. In '99 the
event returns to a traditional site, Medinah outside Chicago.
Then it's back to Valhalla, where the PGA was welcomed as if it
were the Kentucky Derby. "I've never seen so many people so
happy at a golf tournament," Awtrey said.
Not everyone was ecstatic. In the locker room many players were
lukewarm about the prospect of the PGA and perhaps the Ryder
Cup, another PGA of America property, returning to the Jack
Nicklaus- designed course on a regular basis. "I don't want to
be critical, because it's an O.K. course," said Paul Azinger.
"It's definitely good enough to host a Tour event. But I'm not
sure about a major championship unless they make some changes."
To the public, former Masters chairman Hord Hardin was known for
his often awkward televised interviews of the tournament
winners. In one defining moment he asked Seve Ballesteros how
tall he was. But to those in golf Hardin was a giant who never
suffered from stage fright. When he succumbed to cancer on Aug.
5 at his summer home in Harbor Springs, Mich., Hardin left a
legacy as one of the game's most accomplished administrators. It
was Hardin who refused to allow the Masters to be overwhelmed by
the commercialization that has engulfed the professional game,
warning that he would never allow his event to become "the Pizza
Hut Masters." It was Hardin who anticipated charges of racial
discrimination and urged Augusta National to admit a black
member in advance of the Shoal Creek controversy. It was also
Hardin who changed Augusta's greens from Bermuda to bent grass,
opened the doors for Tour caddies to work the Masters and gave
the top 30 money-winners on Tour from the previous year a spot
in the tournament.
While not as famous as Augusta National founder Clifford
Roberts, Hardin turned the Masters into the best-run golf
tournament in the world. "I think there was the thought by some
members and some of the public that after Mr. Roberts stepped
down that things would go to hell," Hardin once said, "but I
don't think that happened."
To quote Sigmund Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." But
on the golf course, the stogie has become as hot as titanium.
Men and women were lighting up last week at Valhalla, where Dean
Athanis, president of the Cohabaco Cigar Company, estimates that
he sold 15,000 cigars, from a $5 La Aurora to a $12 Astral
Maestro. "People don't smoke pot anymore, and I think cigar
smoking represents a return to elegance," Athanis says. "The
guys love it, and to women it's a chance to be playful." One
stogie-smoking woman at Valhalla, who requested anonymity,
compared it to wearing her boyfriend's underwear. "You can't go
to a golf tournament without smoking one," she said. "Besides,
it gives you a good buzz."
David Graham won't let the Presidents Cup controversy die.
Ousted as captain of the International team last month, Graham
told the Sydney Telegraph last week that he withdrew from the
PGA because it would have been "difficult to resist the urge to
punch someone in the nose." That someone is Craig Parry, who
Graham thinks led the player revolt against him. "If I bumped
into Craig Parry, I'd probably put him in a locker and throw
away the key," Graham said. "Who the hell is Craig Parry anyway?"
THE WAITING GAME
Kelly Gibson blew into Louisville last week hoping to re-create
the John Daly miracle of 1991, when Daly went from ninth
alternate to PGA champion. At the start of the week Gibson was
the eighth alternate at Valhalla, but after six players withdrew
early in the week and a seventh, John Mahaffey, pulled out on
Wednesday, Gibson moved to the top of the list. So that night he
hopped on a flight from New Orleans to Louisville, caught four
hours of sleep and was on the 1st tee at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday
hoping one more player would either bail out or miss his
starting time. "Where's Tonya Harding when I need her?" Gibson
Four groups hadn't teed off when the first round was suspended
for more than four hours because of rain and lightning, which
only prolonged Gibson's wait. In the locker room during the
suspension, he resorted to desperation tactics.
"You going off number 10?" Gibson asked Brandel Chamblee, one of
those who had yet to tee off.
Chamblee did a double take, thinking that the rain had caused
the PGA to go to a two-tee format. Then he recognized the
devilish look on Gibson's face.
"Nice try," Chamblee said.
Thirteen hours later everyone had made his appointed tee time,
and Gibson had left the course. "There are no John Daly stories
this year," he said while heading for the exit.
IVAN THE TERRIBLE
Although both were born in the former Czechoslovakia, Ivan Lendl
and Alexander Cejka apparently are less than Czechmates. In
Prague tournament officials gave Lendl, who after an injury gave
up tennis and is attempting to play golf professionally, an
exemption into this week's Czech Open. So far Lendl has had a
hard time breaking 80 in celebrity events, but tournament
organizers thought local fans would love to see one of the
country's most famous expatriates paired with Cejka, who fled
with his father to Germany when he was a boy. Cejka wasn't
enthused and asked out of the pairing. "Lendl's not playing good
golf," he explained.
THE SHORT GAME
Paul Azinger was looking at a fine from Tim Finchem for snapping
his putter over his knee at the British Open, but the Tour's
commissioner let Azinger off after receiving a tongue-in-cheek
letter from Phil Blackmar that defended Zinger. Among other
things, Blackmar wrote that Azinger should be awarded Ryder Cup
points for "trying to beat the European dogs on their soil."
Well, it's not exactly Letterman material, but "Tim got such a
kick out of it he didn't fine me," Azinger said. "I guess you
could look at it like: How often does this guy get to laugh?"...
Fuzzy Zoeller's 12-year-old daughter, Gretchen, could end up
being the best golfer in the family. While the Fuzz was
finishing 22nd in the Buick Open two weeks ago, she placed third
in the Indiana girls' 13-and-under tournament. "She's playing
better than I am," said Pop, who wound up 36th in the PGA.