NEW CAPTAIN, OLD PHILOSOPHY?
One can be certain that the U.S. gleaned two valuable lessons
from the European team at September's Ryder Cup: 1) Get to know
the course you're playing, which the Americans clearly did not
at Valderrama, and 2) work on your short game, which proved to
be the U.S.'s undoing in Spain, particularly on the second day
of the competition, when the Americans went winless in eight
The one area in which the PGA of America apparently did not feel
the need to follow the lead of the Europeans was in the
selection of a captain for the 1999 team. By picking Ben
Crenshaw to head the squad at the Country Club in Brookline,
Mass., the PGA selected an individual who, it would seem, will
offer the same studied, low-key approach as his predecessor, Tom
While he was effusive in his praise of Seve Ballesteros, the
manic European captain whose aggressive style was widely cited
as making the difference at Valderrama, Crenshaw said last week
that he will likely take a less hands-on approach. He also said
he will consult with past Ryder Cup players, and members of the
'99 team will be expected to assume visible, vocal roles in the
clubhouse. "It's a collaborative process," says Crenshaw, who
was 3-8-1 in his four Ryder Cup appearances. "It's been my
experience that players come to the captain individually, or
tell the team in a team meeting, 'Fellas, I'm just not playing
Such statements will do little to dispel the Gentle Ben moniker
that Crenshaw has carried for the last two decades. No matter,
Crenshaw says. "The captains I played for--[the late] Dave Marr,
Jack Nicklaus and Lanny Wadkins--had diverse personalities. Dave
was friendly and charming, but he had a tough side to him that
made him very effective in our '81 win [at Walton Heath]. No one
has more competitive spirit than Lanny, but we lost in '95. In
'83 Jack was very loose, more so than we expected, and we won.
In '87 at Muirfield Village he was more serious, perhaps because
it was his home club, and we lost. There's no magic formula."
During an otherwise forgettable final round of the Las Vegas
Invitational, in which he shot a 75 to finish 36th, Tiger Woods
felled a bird with his second shot to the par-5 16th hole at the
TPC at Summerlin. The deceased bird and the ball ended up next
to each other in the short rough fronting the green. Woods got
up and down for a 4, thus becoming the only Tour player this
year to shoot two birdies on the same hole during the same round.
FORMER PHARMACIST EMERGES AS DRIVING FORCE
Mesquite, Nev., a town of 2,000 about 80 miles northeast of Las
Vegas, looks a lot like the set of a Mad Max movie. Composed
mostly of sand and scrub, gas stations and gambling houses,
Mesquite offered the perfect setting last Saturday for the
boom-or-bust boys at the North American Long Drive Championship,
in which contestants took advantage of heavy tailwinds to hit
the largest collection of 400-yard drives in the 22-year history
of the event.
The winner for the second straight year was Jason (the
Terminator) Zuback. The 27-year-old former pharmacist from
Drayton Valley, Alberta, slammed the fourth of his six attempts
in the finals high into the 50[degree] desert night, rolling it
past the 400-yard marker, the last line on the measuring grid.
When the ball finally stopped 412 yards, two feet and 3 1/2
inches from the tee, Zuback tore around the CasaBlanca Golf Club
like a Tasmanian devil. "When you're all pumped up and the crowd
is electrifying you, the cold is secondary," the 5'10",
215-pound Zuback said. "I hit it right in the middle of the club
face, and it was a beautiful sensation of pure velocity."
Such feats were hardly unexpected from a guy who hit a 410-yard
drive in the semifinals with such force that he severed his club
head. A former amateur powerlifter who once squatted 628 pounds,
Zuback began long-driving in 1992 after watching the North
American championship on television. He has since put together
an impressive resume. His longest drive in competition is 463
yards. His club head speed averages 133 mph (the average speed
for a Tour player is 110 mph), and he owns the second-fastest
ball speed ever measured by Titleist (207 mph).
In Mesquite, the field of 48 (culled from 5,312 entrants in
regional qualifiers) took advantage of a downward slope and
tailwinds gusting up to 50 mph to obliterate the competition's
records. Including the preliminary rounds last week, 17 men
broke the 400-yard barrier. (Zuback's winning drive last year
was 351 yards.) Even the champion in the senior (45-and-over)
division, 48-year-old Mike Hooper of Culver City, Calif., hit
his winning blast 371 yards, three inches.
Zuback, who quit his pharmacist's job in June to devote himself
full time to long-driving, won $50,000 for his victory, the
largest check in the sport's history. Zuback still makes it a
policy not to spend any downtime at the slots during
competitions in Nevada. However, when a well-wisher told Zuback
on Saturday to have some fun with his winnings, he nodded and
said, "No kidding, eh."
LORD LEAD SAYS NORMAN HAS ADJUSTED HIS SWING
Whenever Greg Norman struggles these days, residue from his
meltdown on the final day of the 1996 Masters is said to be the
cause. His swing teacher, David Leadbetter, believes otherwise.
He says that Norman's swing had become too loose after the '96
Masters, which caused him to lose power. "Greg wasn't getting
enough extension on the backswing, and on the downswing his legs
were sliding forward too soon before impact," says Leadbetter.
To get his swing in sync, Norman, who will be making his first
start since early September at this week's Tour Championship, is
standing more erect over the ball and concentrating on rotating
his body. Also, in an effort to improve his strength and
stamina, Norman has added 10 pounds to his frame since the PGA
Championship in August. Last week, during a three-hour workout
with Norman at Lake Nona, outside Orlando, Leadbetter was
pleased with what he saw. "Greg looks great," says Leadbetter.
"He's very much in control of himself."
A SECOND CHANCE FOR A HISTORY-MAKING INDIAN
There are more than 450 million women in India, but 25-year-old
Smriti Mehra, who regained her LPGA tour card by tying for
eighth at last week's Q school in Daytona Beach, is the
country's only female golf pro. The daughter of a wealthy
businessman who belongs to the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Mehra
became smitten with the game when she was 14 and read Ben
Hogan's The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. By the time she was 17,
Mehra, whose only lessons came from her mother, a three
handicapper, was breaking 80 and had decided to become a tour
pro. "But when I told my parents I wanted to be a pro, they
totally flipped out," says Mehra.
They had envisioned for their daughter a more traditional
lifestyle in which she would attend a university, marry and
raise children. However, they also recognized Smriti's passion
for her sport. Grudgingly, in 1992, they made a deal: If Mehra
won one of India's two national amateur titles and earned her
college degree, she would be allowed to turn pro. In 1993 Mehra
graduated with honors from Calcutta University, where she
received degrees in English and history. The following year she
won India's match- and stroke-play titles.
After spending a year on the Futures tour in the U.S. and
another on the Asian tour, Mehra earned a conditional card at
the Q school last October and subsequently moved to Orlando.
However, despite leading the tour in driving distance (263
yards), she missed 13 cuts in 19 starts and earned only $15,352,
necessitating a return to Q school. "Mom was happy with my year
because she thought that meant I was finished with golf and that
I'd be coming home for good at Christmas," Mehra says. "I'm
still going home, but instead of looking for a job, I can party."
THE SHAG BAG
By defeating Rick Stimmel, one up, in the final of the U.S.
Mid-Amateur last week in Dallas, Ken Bakst joined a long list of
Stanford alumni with a prominent place in USGA annals, including
Tiger Woods (three Amateur and three Junior titles), Tom Watson
(1982 U.S. Open), Ann Quast Sander (three Amateurs and four
Senior Amateurs), and Sandy Tatum and Grant Spaeth (past
presidents of the USGA). In the late '70s, Bakst was coached for
two seasons at Stanford by Senior tour player Bruce
Summerhays.... Jocelyne Bourassa, the executive director of the
du Maurier Classic, said last week that the tournament will
almost certainly be played for the last time next year. Since
laws effectively banning cigarette advertising in Canada were
passed last March, not a single company has expressed interest
in replacing du Maurier, which pays more than $4 million per
year to put on the tournament.
On his way to tying the record for most Senior tour victories in
a season (nine), Hale Irwin became the first golfer to surpass
$2 million in official earnings. Should he collect another
$441,481 before the end of the year, Irwin would also eclipse
the record for worldwide earnings (the combination of all
official and unofficial prize money) set in 1996 by Colin
Montgomerie (above). Here are the top 10 seasons on the
worldwide money list.
PLAYER YEAR EARNINGS
Colin Montgomerie 1996 $3,071,442
Ernie Els 1994 $2,862,854
Nick Price 1993 $2,825,691
Nick Faldo 1992 $2,748,248
Corey Pavin 1995 $2,746,340
Tom Lehman 1996 $2,634,804
Hale Irwin 1997 $2,629,961
Nick Price 1996 $2,415,464
Greg Norman 1993 $2,285,280
Fred Couples 1992 $2,259,208
What do these players have in common?
Their Tour earnings have dropped more than $1 million from one
year to the next.
Dollars that Chip Beck has won on the Tour since finishing 45th
in the Honda Classic in March, a span of 24 starts.
Golf Plus will next appear in the Nov. 17 issue of SI.