Golf turned into a kind of Sally Jesse Raphael show last week at
the Players Championship. All the politeness and pleats and
"pleased to meet you's" that the game is famous for gave way to
a lot of snarls and whispers and people just itching to knock
other people's hats off. All of which was fine, since an ingrate
named Steve Elkington ruined the tournament for everybody else.
First came the "My Hero Said What?" show, starring Tiger Woods,
who was featured in a bizarre article in the April issue of GQ
telling dirty jokes. Woods released a statement saying how
little he liked the story, which immediately quadrupled its
readership. Then Woods marched around the Stadium Course of the
Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass tighter than Steve Melnyk's
pants, finishing 31st, his worst showing in six starts this
year. Somebody get this kid a media adviser.
Then came the "I'm Being Followed!" episode, starring Greg
Norman, who has a week of ghoulish "Remember what happened last
year?" questions coming up at next week's Masters, where in 1996
he blew a six-shot lead on the final day to lose. He thought a
Canadian film crew was electronically eavesdropping on a
conversation he was having outside a fitness trailer with his
former coach Butch Harmon, whom he left last fall for David
Leadbetter, who happens to be the coach of the man who assisted
in Norman's Masters Disaster, Nick Faldo. Pumped from a workout
in a sleeveless T-shirt, Norman was about to turn the Canadians
into chum until the crew convinced him that the little red light
on the camera that Norman saw was only a battery light, not a
"tape-running" light. That incident aside, Norman is very relaxed.
Then came the "Bad Breakups" show, featuring a half-dozen
players and their significant others but starring defending
Players champion Fred Couples, who walked into the interview
room two days before the tournament looking slightly more glum
than Eeyore. What followed was one of the odder exchanges in
investigative journalism history.
Couples: I don't quite think I am ready [to play].
Press: Why not?
Couples: You know, that is a good question. It's not that big a
deal. No one has died.
Press: Uh, you want to be more specific?
Couples: I care not to comment.
Press: So something happened?
Couples: Something happened, yeah.
Press: And it makes it harder for you to focus on your game?
Couples: Sure. I guess the best way to say it, I broke up with
my girlfriend [Tawnya Dodds]. I mean, what is the big deal?
Meanwhile, ignored, a golf tournament was about to get under
way. This Players had the finest field assembled for any event
since the advent of the World Golf Rankings in 1986. The top 50
players were here. Number 11, the 34-year-old Elkington, was
boring straight ahead, opening with a 66 and a one-shot lead
that included four straight birdies. Not that it made a ripple.
This is because late on Thursday things took a direct turn
toward Ugly. That's when the former recovering alcoholic John
Daly decided to celebrate his opening 76 with a night of
insobriety. He started at Hooters and then made it to Sloppy
Joe's cantina in Jacksonville Beach, where he fell in with five
members of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. People plied Daly
with free drinks, and soon he was onstage singing Knockin' on
Heaven's Door to the accompaniment of Stormbringer.
By 12:10 a.m. he was being taken back to his villa at the
Sawgrass Marriott by a musician he had met named Will Hurley.
"He didn't seem bad to me," said Hurley. "A lot of the night he
was drinking ice water!" When the two pulled into the parking
lot, Daly stayed for a time in Hurley's van. "He didn't say, but
he let on like there could be a problem inside with his wife
[Paulette]," Hurley said. "I offered to go in and smooth things
over, but he said no." Once inside, the storm was good and
brung. The Dalys apparently argued. Paulette summoned Fuzzy
Zoeller, John's closest friend on the PGA Tour, to try and calm
her husband down. That didn't exactly work. "He said some things
to me I know he didn't mean," Zoeller said.
Paulette left the villa with the couple's 22-month-old daughter,
Sierra, went to the front desk and asked for help. According to
one hotel employee, it took six security people to subdue Daly,
who inflicted some damage on the room. Two days later it was
still being referred to by Marriott operators as "unoccupiable."
All of which is not the kind of behavior that will get you
Honored Guest upgrades.
At 1:30 Zoeller accompanied Daly to a hospital. "He was about as
far down as I've ever seen one human being," Zoeller said. He
was treated and released later that morning. By 7:30 a.m. the
Dalys were no longer registered in the villa. On Friday morning
Daly withdrew, citing a sore hip. "Flask," a wise guy added.
On Easter Sunday, Daly announced he will check into the Betty
Ford Alcohol Rehabilitation Clinic in Palm Springs, Calif. It's
his second rehab stint since 1994, and it was unclear whether
checking in was his idea or the Tour's, as was the first. Either
way, the news was more than welcome to Daly's close friends.
Daly had blown two years of sobriety by drinking again last
August--"this doesn't mean he's fallen off the wagon," his
handlers insisted--and was looking like a guy late for an
appointment with an oncoming train.
"Until a man falls off the end of the earth," says Zoeller,
"which happened the other night, he thinks nothing is wrong. I
think this one here kind of woke him up. It scared the hell out
of him." Said another friend, "This could've gotten a whole lot
worse before it got better." In a statement Daly said, "This
disease is much tougher than I thought." He is not expected back
on Tour for at least six weeks, probably longer.
Elkington, meanwhile, was carving up large parts of Florida and
keeping them. He followed his 66 with a pretty 69 in the wind
for a one-shot lead over Larry Mize, then opened the third round
with three consecutive birdies. Nobody seemed to care.
That is because Saturday brought along Scott Hoch, who is upset
at the lack of respect from the press for his accomplishments
(12th in the world rankings and the fifth-highest-rated
American, the 1986 Vardon Trophy winner for low stroke average
on Tour, as gnarly a match player as there is). In fact, Hoch
announced in February that he was no longer talking to the media
and came into the interview room on Saturday after putting up
the low round of the week--a 65--to explain why.
After a half hour of circuitous monologues, the basic Hoch
complaint seemed to be that he is often misquoted. Misquoting
will not happen to Hoch in this story. We quote him verbatim:
Press: Scott, after this tournament, will the media boycott
Hoch: It hasn't been in too much force because I found out that
nobody doesn't want to talk to you much when you don't do very
Elkington, meanwhile, continued on his merry way. Even with
bogeys at 17 and 18 he had doubled his lead by nightfall to two
shots, over Hoch. Elkington's interviews were much simpler to
Press: Will you play differently with the lead tomorrow?
Elkington: I'll let it rip, don't worry.
Actually, Elkington is a man of such grace and style, he never
looks like he's ripping anything. Everything about him makes
mothers and tailors sigh. A wrinkle has never been within a par
5 of his shirts. His pants contain 1% mink. He is a meticulous
gardener and artist. He swings with a seamless ease, not an
extra ounce of torque here or grimace there, a lullaby in
spikes. "You see guys with beautiful technique," says Brad
Faxon, who finished fourth. "And you see guys with beautiful
tempo. It's not often you see both."
But if Elkington's swing was a soft summer breeze, his putting
stroke had always been a backup in a sewage treatment system.
Even in 1995, when he won his only major (the PGA) and finished
fifth on the money list, Elkington ranked only 95th on the Tour
in putting. That has all changed this year. He took the fewest
putts three weeks ago to win at Doral (101) and the fewest putts
again at the Players (105). He is putting like a man who would
very much like to add green to his sport jacket collection. "If
Elk keeps putting like this," says Faxon, "he'll be the beast
But even Elkington has been a little jumpy under that velvet
exterior. He slept fitfully Saturday night. He was up at six for
a 2:15 tee time, putted for three hours in his hotel room,
watched a Sylvester Stallone movie (Daylight) and finally,
mercifully, made his way to the range, where he never missed a
shot. The tension was relieved. "Oooooh, Steve!" yelled a woman
who was watching him warm up. "You're gonna win! Oh, baby!"
To which Elkington replied, "Shut up!" (Ever since Norman's
collapse, players have been careful not to tick off the golf
But this one was over early. Elkington blew his birdie putt on
the 1st hole five feet by and drilled the throat-blocker coming
back for par. He saved par on the 2nd from off the green. He
dunked a six-foot trembler on 3 for par. He drained a
full-fledged 15-foot rosary on 4 for par, and when Hoch
double-bogeyed there, the lead was four. Thus tested, Elkington
enjoyed a happy walk for the rest of the day. Talk about
daylight. Elkington was so far ahead that the only danger was
that he'd play the final three watery holes in a dead sprint.
"He started to rush," said Gypsy Joe Grillo, his longtime
caddie. "So I started lagging behind, making him wait for me."
At most clubs that'll get you fired. On Sunday it got Gypsy a
nice slice of Elkington's $630,000 check.
Which was considerably more than Davis Love III earned for his
starring role in "Men Who Forget the Rules, and the Fates That
Befall Them." Tied for sixth as he lined up a four-foot birdie
putt at the 17th hole on Sunday, Love inadvertently struck his
ball while taking a practice stroke. Rather than replacing the
ball and assessing himself a one-stroke penalty, Love counted
the mishit and proceeded to two-putt. The penalty for failing to
return a ball to its original position is two shots, and when
Love signed for a four instead of a five, he was disqualified.
It was a $105,437 mistake.
Elkington was having no such problems, and when he chipped in
from behind the 18th green for one last birdie, he had an
appetizer-to-mints win and four rounds in the 60s: 66-69-68-69
for a 16-under 272. His margin over second-place Spoke, er,
Hoch, was seven, the largest blowout in the tournament's 24
years. Said Hoch, perhaps quoting Rommel, "Only one guy beat me."
Said a nearly giddy Elkington, "I blew away really the best
field we've ever had, and I didn't know if I was capable of
that. I can't explain what got into me this week."
Had to be a full moon.