The Hunger Number It's feast or famine for players on the Nike tour

June 21, 1998

Who will shoot the next 59 on the Nike tour? How about the first
58? The PGA Tour has big names and big purses, but the wannabe
tour has dibs on pro golf's most dazzling scores. The four
lowest rounds of 1998 on the four major U.S. tours--59s by Notah
Begay III and Doug Dunakey, a 60 by Jimmy Green and a 61 by
Patrick Lee--have been shot on the Nike tour. Why? "Because
we're constantly pushing to shoot as low as we can," says
Dunakey, who yipped a two-foot putt for a 58 at the Nike Miami
Valley Open, where he finished second, a week before winning the
Nike Cleveland Open last Sunday. "On the PGA Tour one high
finish can make your whole year, but our prize money is so tight
that you need to be in the top five a lot to make a living."

Unlike the sponsor's shoes, there's no cushion on the Nike tour.
Nor are there courtesy cars, free buffets or $45,000 checks for
finishing 15th. In fact $45,000 is $4,500 more than Casey Martin
earned for his Nike Lakeland Classic victory in January. Martin
& Co. not only have a smaller pie to divide, but they also have
fewer pieces to go around. On the PGA Tour the top 70 players
and ties make the cut each week, while on the Nike only 55 play
on the weekend. At the end of the year, only the top 15 players
on the Nike money list win PGA Tour cards. Such fierce
competition breeds daring play. The chart below shows the
winner's average lead over the 10th-, 25th- and 50th-place
finishers on the four major tours. In each case the gap--call it
the hunger number--is lowest on the Nike tour, while the LPGA
comes in a close second. If you want proof that hungry players
grind harder, whether shooting for victory or just to make the
cut, this is it.

The year's lowest rounds on each of the other tours is 62--by
David Duval, Bruce Lietzke and Davis Love III on the PGA Tour;
Hale Irwin, Jay Sigel and Isao Aoki, whose hot round helped him
win last week's BellSouth Classic, among the Seniors; and Kristi
Albers and Meg Mallon of the LPGA.

Skeptics may quibble with the achievements of the Nike players,
saying that Begay, Dunakey and the rest took advantage of easy
courses. However, the Nike players' incentive to stay near the
leaders--to climb a bit closer to the golden PGA Tour--is
inarguable. John Daly, David Duval, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Tom
Lehman cut their competitive teeth on the Nike tour and
discovered its central truth. "There's huge pressure there,"
says Daly, who played the Nike in its inaugural season, 1990,
and the next year won the PGA Championship and was the PGA
Tour's rookie of the year. "You've got to win to make any money.
But that's the test of whether you're ready to play with the
best."

--Rick Lipsey

COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG JONES Sizzler Jimmy Green burned Raleigh Country Club with a 60 at the Nike Carolina Classic.

AVERAGE STROKES BEHIND THE WINNER

10th PLACE 50th PLACE 25th PLACE

NIKE 5.64 9.14 14.21
LPGA 6.76 10.65 14.71
PGA 6.95 10.76 14.90
SENIOR 7.07 10.94 16.69

An Open Question

Does it matter how a player fares in his last appearance before
the U.S. Open? Here are the Open winners in the '90s and their
finishes in their final tune-ups.

OPEN CHAMP PREVIOUS START

1997 Ernie Els Cut
1996 Steve Jones Cut
1995 Corey Pavin 2nd
1994 Ernie Els 2nd
1993 Lee Janzen T3rd
1992 Tom Kite T7th
1991 Payne Stewart 17th
1990 Hale Irwin T3rd

Torture Tracks

Expect grumbles at the Olympic Club this week. Since 1955 no
U.S. Open course has played tougher than Olympic did that year.
Here are the highest scoring averages by Open fields since then.

VENUE AVERAGE

Olympic '55 78.72
Southern Hills '58 77.92
Pebble Beach '72 77.79
The Country Club '63 77.55
Winged Foot '74 76.99
Hazeltine '70 76.58
Inverness '79 76.46
Bellerive '65 76.30
Oak Hill '56 76.28

The Number

1-1
Odds that someone makes a hole in one during this week's U.S.
Open, according to Ladbrokes, the London-based bookmaking firm.

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)