KEEP AN EYE ON THESE KIDS
Even as we contemplate whether or not Tiger Woods is the next
Jack Nicklaus, the scramble is on to see who will become the
next Tiger Woods. Two leading candidates are Diana Davis and
Eamonn Hodgson Jr., a pair of talented six-year-olds who are
part of an army of globe-trotting, club-toting tykes. "Tiger's
bringing them all out of the woodwork," says swing guru David
Leadbetter, who just before Christmas was at Miami's Doral
Resort to watch Eamonn and Diana play in the seven-and-under
division of the Doral Publix Junior Classic. More than 500
juniors, ages six to 18, from 40 states and 30 countries
competed in six age groups in the prestigious tournament.
In the 18-hole boys' seven-and-under competition, played on
Doral's par-3 course, Eamonn, from Chester, England, shot
34-40-74 (20 over par) but finished second after losing a
sudden-death playoff to a boy 15 months his senior, Johnny Del
Prete of Stuart, Fla. Meanwhile Diana, from Pembroke Pines,
Fla., won the girls' division, shooting a 48-46-94.
Diana took up the game when she was two as a way to stay close
to her dad, Scott, a golf-crazed eight handicapper who practices
daily. She played in her first tournament a year later and won.
Now the mantel in her family's living room is crowded with
trophies as well as a 43-page scrapbook documenting her
victories, sometimes over boys four years older than she. Diana,
though, is not yearning--yet--to be a golfer. "Maybe I'll be a
ballerina or an artist," she says.
January 20, 1997
Eamonn could care less about ballet, art or even school. Every
day after the rigors of kindergarten he practices for four hours
while his nongolfing father, a postal worker on disability
leave, watches. "When I leave school, I'm going to be a pro,"
says Eamonn, who can hit a ball more than 125 yards. "I practice
always, and I'm good."
Oh, yes, he's cocky. At Doral, Eamonn stuck out his tongue at
playing partners on holes when he beat them. He unleashed some
unsettling trash talk, to wit, "I'm in front, and I'm going to
stay in front."
Like Diana, Eamonn took up golf when he was two. But his parents
shielded him from competition until last year, when he won six
titles and became so popular in Great Britain that a newspaper,
The News of the World, which paid for his trip to Doral,
organized a match at Wentworth against former Ryder Cup captain
Bernhard Gallacher. Eamonn lost the 12-hole duel by only 12
shots. "When I'm 16, I'm going to challenge Nick Faldo," says
Eamonn. "And you know, I'm going to beat him."
NEW ABC TEAM GETS OFF TO AN IMPRESSIVE START
When you flip on your television set this year, the fresh faces
you see won't be limited to youngsters such as Karrie Webb and
Tiger Woods. Big changes have reshaped the announcing crews at
ABC, CBS and NBC. CBS has a rookie commentator named Ben
Crenshaw, as well as a new producer-director, Lance Barrow, who
replaced the venerable Frank Chirkinian. NBC has brought in Gary
Koch, the former Tour player who had been with ESPN and ABC, to
replace Bob Trumpy.
The biggest changes, however, are at ABC, which has largely
revamped its team. New are director Jim Jennett, chief analyst
Curtis Strange and host Mike Tirico. The network got off to a
solid start at the Mercedes Championships. Most impressive was
Tirico, who calmly and competently put into perspective the
event's significant moments.
Tirico, 30, was a studio regular at ESPN for five years (and
will continue as the host of ESPN's NFL Prime Monday) before ABC
hired him to take over for Brent Musburger, who, as a golf
announcer, got abysmal reviews from players and fans. Tirico is
not theatrical, and his voice is moderate without being dull.
Refreshingly, his sentences include subjects and verbs, as well
as facts. We appreciate his telling us that Tiger Woods outdrove
Davis Love III by 25 yards on a hole we did not see; we like to
know stuff like that. As the rain fell on Sunday, Tirico never
babbled to fill time. He gave us useful information on how the
Tour handles such situations.
Jennett let us hear Tirico often but didn't show him much. We
were treated to disembodied words, spoken with no discernible
accent, floating above beautiful pictures of La Costa Resort and
Spa, near San Diego. Tirico has a pleasant face, but those of us
in frigid climes wanted to see growing grass, flying divots and
people in shirtsleeves. And last Saturday, Jennett gave us those
Seated beside Tirico was Strange, scheduled to work 10 of ABC's
23 events this year. In his prime Strange was a player of
unbridled intensity. So it was weird to hear him singing hymns
to nicely lagged 30-footers. Give him time, and he may
out-Johnny Miller Johnny Miller, both for candor and for insight.
ABC has been an afterthought in TV golf since 1994, when it lost
its contract with the USGA and therefore the U.S. Open. Now the
network is fighting to regain its status as a major player and,
like the season itself, is off to a good start.
PALMER FLIES TO MAYO TO FIGHT PROSTATE CANCER
The day he arrived at La Costa to present the award named after
him to the leading money winners on last year's PGA and Senior
tours, Arnold Palmer learned that he had cancer of the prostate.
Palmer, 67, has had two blood-screening tests for prostate
cancer in the last 18 months that indicated the possible
presence of the disease, but biopsies in both cases proved
negative. However, last Friday his doctors left an urgent
message for Palmer to phone them as soon as he arrived at La
Costa. When Palmer called, he learned that a third biopsy had
come up positive.
Palmer attended the awards dinner, where he told friends about
the cancer. After withdrawing from this week's Bob Hope Chrysler
Classic, which he has never missed since it began in 1960,
Palmer on Sunday piloted his plane from his home in Orlando to
the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for tests. According to his
spokesman, Doc Giffin, Palmer is confident that the cancer was
detected at an early stage and is curable.
HERE'S WHO HIT THE FIRST SHOT OF '97
Because of its location, residents of the Kingdom of Tonga
brought in the New Year before people anywhere else in the
world, so when John Sharma hit a lovely draw 270 yards down the
middle of the fairway on the 470-yard par-5 1st hole at
Manamo'ui Golf Course, his was officially the first golf shot of
1997. It came at 7:15 a.m. Tonga time (11:15 a.m. on Dec. 31,
Tonga is a chain of islands on the international date line,
3,100 miles east of Australia and 3,000 miles south of Hawaii
(but of course, you knew that). Manamo'ui, with a membership of
120, is a 2,241-yard par-35 nine-hole track outside the capital
city of Nuku'alofa and is the country's only course. It was only
recently expanded from six holes. Before Manamo'ui was built in
1979, Tonga had gone 14 years without golf. Another course was
closed in 1965 because the Tongan queen, Salotein, was buried in
the adjacent royal tombs, and it is sacrilegious for Tongans to
play golf near the tombs. Luckily for Sharma and his first shot,
New Year's Day fell on a Wednesday, not a Sunday. The Tongan
constitution prohibits work and recreation on Sundays, so anyone
caught sneaking in a round of golf on that day can wind up in
THE SHAG BAG
Asked where he wants to take his game in '97, Justin Leonard
says, "Spain--and not on a wine tour." Leonard narrowly missed
making the 1995 Ryder Cup team and wants to be on the U.S. side
in September at Valderrama in Sotogrande, Spain.... The 2002
Solheim Cup will be played at Interlachen Country Club, outside
Minneapolis.... Earl and Tiger Woods will not play together in
the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, as they had planned. Earl
is preparing for heart bypass surgery, tentatively scheduled for
next month.... More Tiger: Woods has fired his attorney, John
Merchant, a former member of the USGA executive committee....
Following a six-month sabbatical from tournament golf after a
horrid stretch in which he missed 41 of 42 cuts, 1991 British
Open champion Ian Baker-Finch returned to the game last week at
the Victorian Open in Melbourne. He shot 77-74 to miss another
cut.... At the Tournament of Champions, Jenny Lidback became the
first LPGA player to make holes in one on consecutive days when
she aced the 147-yard 17th hole at Weston Hills with a five-iron
on Saturday and the 146-yard 11th hole with a six-iron on
Sunday. Lidback tied for 11th.... After playing for seven years
in Europe, Sandy Lyle has rejoined the PGA Tour.... Reached at
home in Hobe Sound, Fla., Greg Norman scoffed at reports that
his no-show at the Mercedes was to spite Tour commissioner Tim
Finchem, who failed to keep Norman informed about the Tour's
plan for a series of events that could become a world tour. "I
decided in October to start a strict program to strengthen my
back, and I'm going to be religious about it," Norman said.
"This stuff about me getting even is a load of garbage."
1,000,000 The difference, in dollars, between the salaries of
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem ($1.4 million) and LPGA
commissioner Jim Ritts ($400,000).