At Home On The Range Habitat

May 10, 1998

The leader in the clubhouse says, "I've got to go hit some
balls." Two hours and 200 Titleists later he's still on the
range, still ironing out flaws that kept his 66 from being an
18-under-par 54.

"There is no reason a man can't birdie all 18 holes," said Ben
Hogan, who made the range a postround institution more than 50
years ago. "They laughed at me for practicing," said Hogan, who
stopped the laughter with five wins in 1945 and 13 more in '46.
Hitting the range is now a ritual, with range-roving fans and
little pyramids of factory-fresh balls awaiting the players'
arrival.

Nick Faldo, Tom Kite, Nick Price and Tom Watson pound range
balls with Hogan-like zeal, but Billy Andrade and Jeff Sluman
work their lips as much as their sticks. That's how they got
their nickname, the Chipmunks. Behind them you might see Peter
Jacobsen schmoozing, but even he stops to watch when Tiger Woods
begins airmailing the far end of the range. Other players know
Woods has arrived "by the sound," says Mark Calcavecchia. "He
hits it with a different sound than the rest of us." Woods may
be the most dedicated postround driller under 30, but he's only
the prince of the practice range. The king is Singh. Every day
on the range is Vijay day--a chance for the five-time Tour
winner from Fiji to hit another million or so balls. Asked what
he's working on today, Singh lifts his club to a precise point
in his backswing, moves it a fraction of an inch and says,
"This, right here." He'll be working on that, right there, until
everyone else is long gone.

David Duval isn't one to dig a trench with his eight-iron after
a round. "It's hard to work on mechanics in this atmosphere," he
says, gesturing at the hubbub around him. Duval, who does most
of his practicing at home in Jacksonville, cites a like-minded
role model. "Jack Nicklaus made sure he was ready before he came
out here," he says. Others, however, can't help worrying that if
they don't hit an extra hundred balls today, somebody who does
will beat them tomorrow. "A lot of guys hit balls out of guilt,"
says Rocco Mediate. Like Mediate, David Graham believes that
guilt drives Tour pros to drive countless balls that don't
count. Unlike Mediate, he is in favor of it. "Guilt is great,"
Graham says, "if it works. Look what it did for Norman and
Price."

--Curt Sampson

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL [Golfers practicing tee shots]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)