RUMORS OF WAR
Trouble in the Persian Gulf sends golfers scrambling
Dubai, or not Dubai? That was the question last week as the
shadow of a second Persian Gulf war crept over the Middle East.
Ernie Els, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman had all
entered the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates,
where golf's top guns get $200,000 (Lehman) to $300,000 (Norman)
just for showing up. Then a showdown between Saddam Hussein and
the civilized world made golfing for petrodollars look like a
trivial pursuit. Until Sunday, when an eleventh-hour agreement
averted war, President Clinton had planned an attack on Iraq
that was code-named Desert Thunder--the latest threat to a golf
event in a year already marred by evil weather.
In 1991 the Dubai tournament was canceled after Hussein's
soldiers invaded Kuwait. This year European tour officials said
they would play through any trouble. Dubai's Desert Classic and
next week's Qatar Masters "are not in danger," said executive
director, Ken Schofield. "This is a new scenario. Saddam is in
his lair, and it is us talking of attacking him."
Lehman thought the dictator's lair, where weapons were said to
be stashed, was part of the trouble. "If they throw a missile or
two and blow up chemical weapons--well, the wind blows pretty
hard to the south," he said. A $200,000 appearance fee wasn't
easy to lose, but as 32,000 U.S. troops prepared for battle and
Iraqi soldiers kissed their rifles for luck, Lehman withdrew
from Dubai. "I got a fax saying Dubai is a safe haven in the
Middle East, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no such
thing," he said.
Australasian tour star Peter Lonard was another dropout. "I
won't be mucking about with any bombing," said Lonard. "I don't
need the nightmare."
Norman, Els and Montgomerie stuck to their agendas, though
nobody was notably gung ho about Dubai. "I'm not going to take
any chances," said Els. Norman flew to the Gulf on Sunday night
just as the news from Baghdad improved. By Monday, Montgomerie,
too, was on hand. Lehman opted for the Nissan Open in L.A. and
said he was glad to be out of the Middle East, "where they hate
Lesser players saw an opportunity in the dilemma. "These are
lucrative events," said Clinton Whitelaw, the 1997 Moroccan Open
champion. "A bread-and-butter pro like me might make some big
money" if the stars chose discretion over dollars. Pro Roger
Wessels was similarly upbeat. "Prospects look good," he said
after watching CNN. His wife, Kim, added, "I'm sure the European
tour wouldn't dream of taking chances, so I'm not scared about
Roger's going. But I'm staying home, just to be sure."
Who Lavas Ya, Wendy?
Saturday's playoff at the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open was a
brief overtime, a fitting end to an event that seemed stuck in
high gear. The last round was played a day early to allow
everyone to catch a special LPGA flight to the Australian Ladies
Masters; on Thursday and Friday unnatural doings hurried things
In Thursday's first round a lake guarding Kapolei's 9th hole
rejected a shot by Wendy Ward. Ward's ball struck a lava rock
and caromed back to dry land. From there she holed a 65-yard
sand wedge for birdie. Ward shot 65 and might have won in
regulation had the island's golf gods not sprung another
surprise on Friday, when Dana Dormann hit a terrible shot on the
same hole. Her ball was rocketing over the green toward certain
doom when it thwacked a scorer's chair and rolled back onto the
hula floor. She two-putted for a 66 and a two-shot lead over Ward.
Unnaturally, they were fated to meet in Saturday's playoff.
Dormann instantly bogeyed and Ward flew south with a $97,500
winner's check, due largely to Thursday's lavable bird.
THE SHAG BAG
Crabby Grass: Turf watchers say California's record rainfall has
made the rough at San Francisco's Olympic Club thicker than
ever. "It's going to be brutal by June," says Olympic pro Jim
Lucius. "We gave it a lot of nourishment last fall, and it's
looking very healthy." On June 17, the eve of the U.S. Open,
workers will cut the intermediate rough to 1 1/2 inches and the
primary rough to five inches; by Sunday the rough stuff may be
as gnarly as anything the players have seen in years. "You won't
want to hit driver on more than three or four holes," Lucius
Anything You Can Do....After SI wondered whether Annika
Sorenstam and Karrie Webb could hold their own against PGA Tour
pros, Sorenstam declared that she would relish the challenge.
"I'd love to try it," said the '97 LPGA player of the year, who
finished tied for fourth last week in Hawaii. "I've got my
strengths. If I putted well and shot 62 like I did in a practice
round the other day, I'd do O.K."
Wild Wild Weekend: When Wendy Ward calmly canned a par putt to
top Dana Dorman in Hawaii, alliteration ran rampant. Brandie
Burton and Meg Mallon finished fast, too, and felt fine flying
to the Australian Masters, where Gail Graham is defending champ.
David Duval won in Tucson, while the Senior winner was, of
course, Larry Lelson.
Hanging with His Homie: According to Trevor Homer of the British
Golf Foundation, "perhaps the best young player in the world" is
Lee Westwood (left). Homer is either the only golf official who
never heard of Tiger Woods or the first to claim that Tiger is
literally out of this world.
Easy Come, E-Z Go: When SI's Gary Van Sickle asked 20 Tour
players if they would consider using a cart, only four said no.
Twelve said they might ride if carts were legal, particularly at
Colorado's Castle Pines Golf Club, site of the Sprint
International. "If we were playing more than 27 holes like we
did last year, I'd ride there," said John Huston. Skip Kendall,
David Ogrin and Tom Watson also cited Castle Pines as the Tour's
toughest hike--making Sprint a curious choice as title sponsor.
Hooters Tour--the Prequel: Jay Leno, on a golf outing he once
worked: "I was told, 'Mr. Sinatra would like you to appear.' So
I went, and there were topless women driving around delivering
drinks." Under PGA Tour rules, of course, they would have had to
It's Those Titanium Putters: Why have scores fallen since the
'70s? Most players credit technology, but Tour stats suggest
another reason: better putting. Since 1976 the average winning
score on Tour has decreased almost exactly one shot, neatly
matching the one-stroke drop in putts per round.
The Man Who Makes the Best of the Worst Weather
John Scott is golf's point man in the war against El Nino. As
director of agronomy for the PGA Tour, the 48-year-old Scott has
spent much of his winter viewing storm damage. "This is one of
the worst weather seasons ever, but we're not panicking," Scott
says. "We're battling back." He and his four-person staff have
visited rain-ravaged California courses between trips to Doral,
the TPC at Heron Bay and Bay Hill to prep those sites for the
Tour's upcoming Florida swing. "Rain has weakened turf and
saturated soil in Florida," says Scott. "We may see muddy golf
balls and bumpy greens." Still, there's hope: The Sunshine
State's Bermuda grass will heal quickly when the sun returns.
The Year L.A. Opened the Door
Fifty years ago, Bill Spiller and Teddy Rhodes finished 22nd and
29th, respectively, at the independently run Los Angeles Open.
Thus they earned automatic entry into the Richmond (Calif.)
Open, where Spiller and Rhodes would become the first black
golfers to play in a PGA-sponsored event.
Or so they thought. Instead they were barred by officials citing
a "Caucasians only" clause in the PGA of America's bylaws.
Spiller and Rhodes sued the PGA, which responded by relabeling
pro events invitationals (whites only) instead of opens. In 1957
Charlie Sifford became the first black golfer to win a "white
event," the Long Beach Open, and in 1961, under pressure from
Sifford and California Attorney General Stanley Mosk, the PGA
finally dropped its Caucasians-only clause.
What do these players have in common?
They are the only golfers to play an entire Senior tour event
without a bogey and not win the tournament.
Weeks Nick Faldo has gone without winning a tournament. The
three-time Masters champion's last victory came at the 1997