In what clearly has become a trend, a PGA Tour event once again
rewarded a player who has fought adversity. Since the beginning
of June, Tour winners have included Tom Watson (wins after nine
years), Steve Jones (comes back from a career-threatening injury
to win the U.S. Open), John Cook (recovers from burnout after a
pep talk from Ken Venturi), D.A. Weibring (overcomes Bell's
palsy), Willie Wood (loses his wife to cancer) and Clarence Rose
(takes care of his gravely ill son). To that list you can add
Dudley Hart, who on Sunday won the rain-shortened Canadian Open.
This is an article from the Sept. 16, 1996 issue
Hart, making only his ninth start of the season after a
six-month layoff due to a wrist injury, kept a cool head despite
a few wayward shots during a final-round 70 at Glen Abbey in
suburban Toronto. Staying in control was almost as significant
as winning to the man known as Baby Volcano. If Hart was Dudley
Do-Right on Sunday--and few headline writers resisted the
reference to the fictional Canadian Mountie of cartoon
fame--then the Snidely Whiplash he vanquished was his own
Vesuvian self. But Snidely always resurfaces for the next
episode, and Hart admits that by next week he could well forget
the lessons in patience that helped him win for the first time
in his five-year Tour career. "No one ever accused me of being
smart or learning fast," he said after his 14-under-par 202 (the
event was reduced to 54 holes when Saturday's round was washed
out by remnants of Hurricane Fran) left him one stroke clear of
Club snapping has deep roots in Hart, who destroyed a driver
just two weeks ago in Milwaukee. His father, Chuck, a golf pro,
used to expel Hart from the course and confiscate his clubs for
such behavior--until the day Hart figured out a way to exercise
his knee with impunity. When his father wasn't looking, Hart
would sneak into the pro shop and reshaft his broken clubs
himself. Years later Chuck informed his son that, owing to
Dudley's ignorance of flex and other differences in shaft
specifications, no shaft in his bag matched any other, which was
a dead giveaway of his attempted deception.
Hart arrived at Glen Abbey, only an hour and a half from his
hometown of Buffalo, with an urgent need to keep his temper in
check and play well. Finishing 148th on the money list in 1995,
Hart was only partially exempt this year and in danger of losing
his Tour card. He had hoped that the injury to the ligaments in
his right wrist--his club struck a tree root during the 1995
Greater Hartford Open--that required surgery in December and
kept him from striking a ball for 16 weeks would qualify him for
a medical exemption for 1997. Wrong. Hart had to get his game
tournament-ready in a hurry because the Tour has toughened the
requirements for medical exemptions. Under the new rules, only
players who have averaged in the top 100 on the money list over
the last five years are eligible. Hart's average was 102. "It
was an extra incentive," he said of the rejection letter he
received from the Tour.
Now he doesn't have to worry. The winner's check of $270,000
will do wonders for Hart's five-year average. More important,
the victory carries a two-year exemption. "It only takes one
week; this is proof of that," said Hart, who also became the
10th first-time winner on Tour this season. "You just have to
give yourself a chance to play well."
That message should reassure the contingent of five
International team players who used the Canadian Open as a final
tune-up for this week's Presidents Cup. Only three made it to
the weekend. An ailing Nick Price (sinus infection) withdrew
after an opening 74, and David Frost missed his fifth cut in a
row. Vijay Singh finished 15th, Ernie Els 20th and Frank Nobilo
Six U.S. team members also played in Canada, with better
results. Duval's second-place finish topped the group that
included Tom Lehman (tied for 7th), Mark O'Meara (20th), Corey
Pavin (26th), Mark Brooks (26th) and Justin Leonard (65th).
Lehman's 68 on Sunday equaled Tiger Woods's score as the best
round of the day.
Duval's performance, particularly, was sweet vindication. He
took a lot of heat for playing a spotty schedule this summer--he
doesn't like to play in extremely hot weather--and for staying
home during the week the Presidents Cup teams were finalized.
(The first 10 players came off a points list and two others were
captain's picks.) "I knew I'd probably fall out of the top 10,"
said Duval, who was ninth at the start of that week and wound up
11th in the standings, "but we'd been led to believe from the
start of the year that the top 12 players would be on the team.
I understand that [captain] Arnold Palmer even wondered whether
to take my not playing as a lack of desire to make the team,
which was not the case. I had some personal problems, and maybe
people would have been less brutal to me had they known that."
Duval's finish was final proof that the U.S. team is in top
form. With the exception of O'Meara, every player on the
American side has had at least one top-10 finish since the
British Open, and even O'Meara says he is playing well. His 65
in the second round at Glen Abbey proves it. Lehman spent some
time last week totting up the assets of the U.S. team and
reported that it has 17 wins on Tour this year, including two
majors and the Players Championship. He came to the conclusion
that, on paper, this group is superior to the Ryder Cup team he
was part of last year. "The better players on our Tour are
getting even better and actually widening the gap between the
top players and the average players," Lehman said.
Els agreed that the U.S. will be a formidable opponent this week
at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Lake Manassas, Va. "We have
an uphill battle," he said. "The U.S. team is very experienced.
All of our boys will have to play really well to beat them. I am
a bit concerned about Nick Price, who hasn't been healthy all
year, and I think his play has shown that. And Greg Norman has
been struggling with his back. But I'd rather have those two,
even not so healthy, than any other two players we could get."
The fact that Price withdrew last week, as did Norman, from the
European Masters, didn't bother Nobilo. "You have to remember
that you're talking about sportsmen, not people with ordinary
jobs," he said. "They probably pulled out as a precautionary
measure because they weren't quite 100 percent, not because they
were incapacitated. Those two are the best in the game and great
competitors. I'm sure they'll be ready to play."
The International team has been effectively set for more than a
year, because of the glacial pace of change on the Sony World
Ranking, which determines its roster. For most of that time that
lineup appeared to be stronger than the Americans', which was
set by the rapidly changing money list. On the eve of the
matches, though, the Internationals appear to be the underdogs,
and not only because of questions about Norman and Price. The
team has a combined 18 wins this year, one more than the
Americans, but only two have come in the U.S. and six on the
European tour, which is considered the second-most difficult in
the world. Jumbo Ozaki, 49, has won five times in Japan and
since the end of March has finished outside the top 10 in only
four events. Revealingly, all four came when he competed on
American soil, with missed cuts in the Masters and the PGA.
Frost and Peter Senior come into the matches following a string
of missed cuts, and Craig Parry has struggled with his game in
the past few months as well.
Pluses for the International team have been the play of Robert
Allenby of Australia and Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe, both of whom
have won recently in Europe, while Singh and Steve Elkington
have been steady all year. The Internationals have match-play
experience, with an overall record of 112-75-13. The Americans'
record is 78-53-14, and two U.S. players, Kenny Perry and Steve
Stricker, have no match-play experience as pros.
All of which prompts Pavin to call the Presidents Cup a dead
heat. "At the Ryder Cup in recent years we've seemed to have
more depth," he said, "but the matches have all been close. In
golf anyone can beat anyone else on any given day."
Dudley Hart is living proof.