THE MASTERS IN MINIATURE
Johnny Miller once called the Masters "the Augusta National
spring putting championship." But Augusta's true spring putting
championship is contested a few strip malls up Washington Road,
as SI's John Walters discovered last week. Here's his report.
Augusta. April. Azaleas in bloom. I'm here for the big golf
"You missed it," says Vontrese, the counter lady at Bojangles.
"The Masters was two weeks ago," she says. "Oh, there may be
some golf thing going on this weekend, but nothing anyone's ever
There's a golf thing going on in Augusta, all right. The
Commissioner's Cup, the first stop on the 11-event Professional
Putters Association tour, has lured 56 of the nation's best
mini-golf players to the Augusta Putt Putt. Which isn't to say
that the participants don't know a green carpet from a green
jacket. For example, Brad Lebo, a 36-year-old Philadelphia
dentist who played golf at Penn, is a four handicapper.
Assessing where his talents have led him today, Lebo says, "I
guess I'm standing at the wrong end of Washington Road."
Lebo is 3.8 miles and approximately 47 franchise restaurants
north of the main gate to Augusta National, but that's as close
as the $10,000 Commissioner's Cup, which started in 1986, comes
to the Masters. At the Putt Putt, every hole on both of the
18-hole courses is a par-2, and there's no such thing as an
approach shot. Or caddies. (There is, however, a safari's worth
of life-sized fiberglass animal figurines lining the course: an
elephant, a giraffe, a hippo, a rhino, a zebra. Curiously, there
is no tiger.)
One can play a round of Putt Putt in half an hour, which is why
this two-day event is an eight-round affair. You also can play
hurt. That would explain why Lewis Burton did not fret when he
threw out his back while sizing up a putt last Saturday. Said
Burton, who would win the tournament, and the $2,000 first
prize, with a 144-hole score of 222: "It isn't like I'm going to
have to hit a long drive at the next tee."
FERNANDEZ TAKES AFTER HIS ALMOST OLD MAN
Vicente Fernandez of Argentina is so spry, owns such a deadly
short game and has such a cheerful disposition that you might
call him Chi Chi Rodriguez Jr. In fact, Rodriguez nearly became
Fernandez's legal father shortly after the World Cup of Golf in
Buenos Aires 35 years ago. While caddying for Rodriguez during
that tournament, Fernandez, who was 15, explained that there was
a rule prohibiting players his age from playing on the Argentine
tour. Rodriguez agreed to adopt Fernandez and bring him home to
Puerto Rico, where the Argentine would be allowed to begin his
pro career. "But when I was 16, they changed the rule to let me
play," Fernandez says. "I called Chi Chi and told him I would
Thus began a distinguished career in which Fernandez would win
17 tournaments in South America and, later, Europe. Just last
year, however, he realized his lifelong dream of playing
regularly in the U.S. Only the second Argentine to join the
Senior tour (1967 British Open winner Roberto De Vincenzo was
the other), Fernandez has emerged as one of the tour's brightest
newcomers. After winning $605,251 and leading the tour in
putting statistics in '96, Fernandez has finished in the top 10
in four of his eight events this year. Last weekend he finished
19th at the Las Vegas Senior Classic.
The 51-year-old Fernandez took a considerable risk when he left
the European tour for the U.S. Because he did not have an
exemption, Fernandez had to qualify each Monday morning for one
of the four available spots in that week's Senior tournament.
Last July he won the Burnet Classic in Coon Rapids, Minn., thus
becoming the fifth golfer in the history of the Senior tour to
win a tournament after four-spotting. More important, the win
earned Fernandez the exemption he's using this year. "The tour
is very nice; I can enjoy it now," he says. "On Monday I can
travel and relax."
Like Rodriguez, Fernandez has a deep affection for children. In
1980 he began a pro-am in Buenos Aires for eight- to
13-year-olds in which each foursome is made up of three juniors
and a pro. Last year's event drew 312 youngsters. After winning
the Burnet, Fernandez approached officials from that tournament
about starting a similar event. They agreed, making July 15, the
Tuesday of tournament week, a junior pro-am day. Already there's
a list of 1,600 prospective entrants.
"At home, kids were getting up at five in the morning and
waiting at the front gate for the club to open for the pro-am,"
Fernandez says. "The kids are fantastic, and their faces--to
look at their faces is a joy."
BRITISH TYKE: I'M (THE FIRST OF MANY?) TIGER WOODS
Certainly you are aware of the recent proliferation of Tiger
Woods biographies (five and counting), Tiger Woods Web sites (at
least 11) and Tiger Woods sightings in the company of
celebrities (most recently with Pebble Beach partner Kevin
Costner in Oregon on the set of the upcoming movie The Postman).
Now comes word of a Tiger Woods heir. Or so say officials at the
Warley Golf Club in Birmingham, England, which has offered a
free membership to Robert Aldred Jr., a long-hitting
According to Robert Aldred Sr., his son has been practicing two
hours a day since he took up the game at 18 months. Initially he
used a plastic-headed club but has since graduated to cut-down
adult clubs with which he has driven balls 140 yards and made
par on holes of up to 345 yards. "At first I thought his hitting
of the ball was luck," says Robert Sr., "but he does it far too
often for that to be the case."
Alan Woolridge, the club secretary at Warley, confirms young
Robert's prowess. "For his age, he is very, very good,"
Woolridge told The Times of London. "We have given him free
membership for three years hoping he will join our junior team
at the age of seven." There is, however, one problem. "He adores
[soccer] and wants to play the game professionally," says
Woolridge. "We are hoping to change Robert's mind."
SHARK'S BEARISH ON JUMPING INTO BULL RING
Greg Norman's struggles before his three-hole playoff loss to
Mark James on Sunday in the Spanish Open hadn't diminished his
global celebrity. On the eve of the tournament, renowned Spanish
matador Sebastian Palomo Linares dedicated his kill to Norman,
who was attending his first bullfight while making his first
appearance in Spain since 1982. Linares later invited the Shark
into the ring to fight a smaller bull. Norman politely declined.
"In golf there's no danger, no blood," he said. "I'm happy to
touch the fin of a shark as it swims by, but I wouldn't want to
touch a bull's horns. Those things are crazy when they come out
of the gates."
THE SHAG BAG
How thoroughly is Hale Irwin dominating the Senior tour? He
three-putted three of the final five holes at Las Vegas and
still won by a stroke over Isao Aoki. "I could be the luckiest
man out here today," said Irwin, who also won the PGA Seniors
two weeks ago and has four victories in '97.... Since the first
week in March, when he returned from a career-threatening foot
disorder, Jose Maria Olazabal has yet to miss a cut in five
starts and has leaped from 218th in the European Ryder Cup
standings to 15th. That's good news for Seve Ballesteros, who
hopes he won't have to use one of his two captain's selections
on his fellow Spaniard.... At the Spanish Open, Ballesteros made
the cut for the first time in seven starts this year, shooting a
three-under 285 highlighted by a 120-yard wedge shot for eagle
at the 18th hole on Sunday. That shot gave Ballesteros a 69 for
the day, his first sub-70 round of the year. He finished
26th.... After Sandy Lyle missed the cut two weeks ago at the
MCI Classic on Hilton Head Island, S.C., his caddie, Max
Cunningham, quit on him. Lyle's wife, Jolande, was on his bag in
Greensboro, where he led after the first round before finishing
a disappointing 59th. "She's very cheerful," says the 1988
Masters champion, "but she'll give you a thump on the head if
you're not careful." ...More Tiger fawning, this time from Colin
Montgomerie: "I was talking with Tom Kite at Augusta, and he
said that he was thinking of pairing Tiger with Mark O'Meara at
the Ryder Cup. They would be as near to unbeatable as a
partnership can be. They would be strolling along, chatting to
themselves, 'Here, Mark, you settle for the birdie and I'll
concentrate on the eagle.' Maybe Seve and Ollie in their prime
would have given them a game. Now we would have to send a relay
team of four to stand a chance."
Tour players will get their first look at Greg Norman's latest
design, the TPC at Sugarloaf, at next week's BellSouth Classic
in Duluth, Ga. We asked SI's Jaime Diaz and Gary Van Sickle to
pick their favorite courses designed by pro golfers. (Selections
were limited to one per player).
DIAZ'S TOP 5
1 Muirfield Village, Dublin, Ohio
Jack Nicklaus with Desmond Muirhead
2 Sand Hills, Mullen, Neb.
Ben Crenshaw with Bill Coore
3 Loch Lomond, Glasgow, Scotland
Tom Weiskopf with Jay Morrish
4The Medalist, Hobe Sound, Fla.
Greg Norman with Pete Dye
5 Osprey Cove, St. Mary's, Ga.
VAN SICKLE'S TOP 5
Double Eagle, Galena, Ohio
Weiskopf with Morrish
Kiva Dunes, Gulf Shores, Ala.
The average amount, in dollars, won by Hale Irwin in the 42
tournaments in which he has played since joining the Senior tour
in June 1995.