THE COMEBACK KID
Fred Couples will be the first to tell you that just two people,
his agent and his banker, give a hoot that he is the only player
to have won the Silly Season's grand slam (Kapalua, the World
Cup, the Shark Shootout and the Johnnie Walker World
Championship). He will also acknowledge that at age 37 his time
as one of the premier players in the game is running short and
he doesn't have much, other than money and a bad back, to show
for it. That's why last week Couples promised to play in 26 Tour
events in 1997, his most since 1988.
It's not as if Couples has been in a slump. This year he made 19
starts on Tour, won the Players Championship and earned $1.25
million, the second-highest total in his career. Last week he
finished second at Kapalua to take home $130,000 more. But he
wasn't a factor in the majors--other than a brief run on Sunday
in the British Open--and hasn't had a multiple-win season in
official events since 1992.
Couples says he will do two things during the Silly Season to
better prepare for the upcoming year: eliminate international
travel, which puts stress on his fragile back, and spend as much
time in the gym working out as on the couch working a channel
It's called the Johnnie Walker Super Tour, but after contending
with rain, heat, wind and cold last week while traveling 4,848
miles to play rounds in four Asian capitals in six days, the
far-flung exhibition became more like a super slog for Ernie
Els, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Ian Woosnam and the four
Asian players competing against them.
The boondoggle began on Nov. 5 on an unseasonably warm,
89[degree] day in Taipei, where Els shot a 67 at Ta Shee Golf
and Country Club to tie Lin Keng-chi of Taiwan and Park Nam Sin
of South Korea for the lead. After the round a renovated 747
owned by a Malaysian sultan jetted the players and their
entourages to South Korea and the Seoul Country Club for the
second 18. In 50[degree] temperatures Woosnam, who has been
fighting a bad back all year, shot a 70 to join Els atop the
leader board. "The ball was going 15 yards shorter than in
Taipei," Woosnam said before hopping on a flight to Manila,
where the group played through the tail end of Typhoon Ernie.
Fittingly, Els regained the lead on the strength of a 71 at
Orchard Golf and Country Club. "If conditions had been any
worse, we would have been playing with snorkels," said Woosnam.
The final round was played on Sunday at Thana City Golf and
Country Club in Bangkok, in sweltering heat. Els and Woosnam
tied at 274, 14 under par. "It's been a long week flying about
Asia," Els said after parring the first hole of a sudden-death
playoff to claim the $100,000 first prize in the silliest Silly
Season event of them all.
What has Tiger Woods been up to? Plenty, as usual. Since the
Tour Championship, Woods has been chilling out with some of his
new neighbors in Orlando. Woods, Mark O'Meara and Ken Griffey
Jr. have spent the last two weeks waterskiing, fishing, shooting
hoops and attending Orlando Magic games. While resting up for
the Australian Open, the Skins Game and the J.C. Penney Classic,
Woods took time to clean up some old business by squeezing in a
trip to Pine Mountain, Ga., for the Fred Haskins Award dinner,
which originally was scheduled for Sept. 26 but had to be
postponed after Woods withdrew from the concurrent Buick
Challenge tournament and blew town. The faux pas--Woods was the
guest of honor as the winner of the Haskins, which goes to the
top college golfer of the year--was the only misstep in his
otherwise magical mystery tour earlier this fall. "I'm trying to
rectify a wrong," Woods said last week.
More than 200 people were expected to attend the dinner in
September, and about 100 showed up for the make-good on Monday
night. One of those missing was Bob Berry, the Buick tournament
director who was extremely critical of Woods's bad manners. He
was in Dallas at the American Golf Sponsors annual meeting and
taking the high road. "We never had any animosity toward Tiger,"
Berry says. "He has shown good faith, and I think the young man
is handling himself well."
David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association,
couldn't resist. He had to call Nike headquarters in Beaverton,
Ore., and point out that in the controversial "Hello, World"
commercial, in which Woods says, "There are golf courses in this
country I cannot play because of the color of my skin," he is
wearing a shirt bearing the logo of Houston's Lochinvar Golf Club.
Lochinvar, where Woods's coach, Butch Harmon, is director of
golf, is a club for men only.
PROS AND CONS
USGA president Judy Bell has made the argument that Kelli Kuehne
has a better amateur record than Woods. With a Girls' Junior
title, two Women's Amateurs and a British Amateur, Kuehne's
record is close to Woods's, but is now the time to follow him
and turn pro? That was the big question last week at the World
Amateur Team Championship outside Manila, where Kuehne placed
third individually. The team portion of the event was won by
South Korea, with the U.S. coming in third after Italy.
IMG reportedly has been making inquiries on Kuehne's behalf and
is said to have lined up an endorsement package worth up to $1
million. Kuehne's timing, however, is bad. The LPGA has already
held its Q school for '97, and unlike the PGA Tour, in which a
player can be given up to seven sponsors' exemptions, the LPGA
grants a maximum of four. Without an LPGA card Kuehne could play
the Futures Tour in the U.S. and events in Asia and Europe to
prepare for the Q school for '98. Kuehne is sure to be paired
with Woods if she plays in the J.C. Penney Classic, but Kuehne's
father, Ernie, says that Kelli "won't turn pro just to play in
one tournament." Kuehne's other option is to turn pro, cash in
on the endorsements and remain at Texas, where she is a
sophomore, but not play for the Longhorns.
Some feel that Kuehne's market value has peaked and that she
would have more to lose than gain by trying to match Woods's
record of winning three consecutive Amateurs. "Her dilemma is
that it's not news when she wins, only when she loses," says her
father. "If there's an opportunity out there that she couldn't
turn down, she'll have to take a hard look."
THE SHORT GAME
Bernhard Langer ended a 13-month winless streak at the Alfred
Dunhill Masters in Hong Kong while using a long putter. "I don't
care what the putter looks like--you don't get paid for looking
good," Langer says. "People laughed when I started to putt
cross-handed in 1982, but that didn't bother me either."...
Bruce Summerhays has given new meaning to the term ironman. He
has played in every round of every Senior tour event in the last
two seasons--74 straight tournaments and 229 rounds....The 1995
U.S. Open champion, Corey Pavin, who did not win on Tour this
year, is leaving Cleveland Golf and will play PRGR irons.... Ben
Smith withdrew from the Senior Tour Championship Grand Masters
division because of chest pains, which opened the door for
alternate Orville Moody, who went on to finish second and win
$50,000. "Ben is such a great friend of mine, and I had the same
thing," said Moody. "I had to have surgery. I know what he's
Tom Lehman's $1,789,304 topped the 1996 PGA Tours International
money list, which combines players' earnings in official events
worldwide. But Tiger Woods made more than anyone--male, female
or senior--per start. Here are the top eight.
Player Starts Per Start The Skinny
Tiger Woods 8 $98,824.25 Close to Greg Norman's
record '95 average of $103,434
Phil Mickelson 22 $79,716.95 Four wins in the U.S.
padded his take
Tom Lehman 24 $74,554.33 A far cry from the mini-tours,
Jumbo Ozaki 18 $71,950.16 Some say he's overrated, but
not at the pay window
Fred Couples 21 $64,257.57 And the meat of his season
has just begun
Hale Irwin 26 $63,358.42 The newest millionaire,
thanks to old money
Colin Montgomerie 25 $61,746.12 He may be lighter, but
not in the wallet
Laura Davies 30 $52,173.83 A big number given the
ladies' small purses