It has come to our attention that 1998, the year in golf that
couldn't miss, the year with the lob-wedge lofty expectations,
is having a midlife crisis. Perhaps someone should organize an
intervention. After six months Tiger Woods has won one
tournament--same as Michael Bradley, Joe Durant, Trevor Dodds
and J.P. Hayes. Our two major winners, Mark O'Meara (Masters)
and Lee Janzen (U.S. Open), seem wooden after Woods, and their Q
ratings are more Taylor Made than tailor-made. The most
thrilling story of the year--USGA BANS TITANIUM--turned out to
be all sizzle, no steak.
We were spoiled silly by last year's embarrassment of riches.
Ernie Els won a great wide Open, which was more than a two-horse
race on the back nine on Sunday. Justin Leonard shot a
final-round 65 at the British to blow past the field like Texas
tumbleweed. Some charmer up in graphics projected a rainbow over
the head of Davis Love III as he won the PGA. Europe retained
the Ryder Cup in a giant upset. All of which conveniently filled
the downtime between Tiger, Augusta, history, meaningful social
dialogue and Oprah.
By comparison this year was bound to seem flatter than a Magic
Johnson monologue. Weekend TV ratings for the Open were down 18%
from last year. (Masters ratings were down as well.) Woods, the
MJ of the PGA, the man who would be King, the man who would be
Jack, is in irons. Callaway's grumpy because somebody sneezed on
its stock, and the equipment industry as a whole is listing ever
so slightly after a stormy six months, both literally and
figuratively. (See: El Nino, volumes Pebble Beach through
Nobody is questioning the game's future. On the docket for '99:
Tim Finchem's new world tour; winners' checks on creatine; a new
TV lineup; Greg Norman shedding his great white bathrobe and
coming back on Tour; Tom Watson defibrillating the Senior
circuit; and Monty bringing his bluster to Brookline, Mass., for
another Ryder Cup.
July 5, 1998
No, the problem is the here and now. Golf needs a compelling
story, something more than David Duval and a pair of Oakleys.
The new World Golf Village? It's a building. Two 59s? They were
on the Nike tour. Casey Martin? Fine legal drama while it
lasted--carried us all the way to the Masters--but the story is
idle until either Martin joins the Tour or he starts winning
again. Matt Kuchar? Great kid. He has filled the PC (Post Casey)
gap and saved '98 from needing a charisma transplant. Still,
call us when he's playing every week.
Recent disputes, real and imagined, speak to the relative dearth
of excitement in golf. Peter Kuchar vs. Justin Leonard? That
barely detectable rift became an afternoon oasis in an otherwise
dry Open. Jarmo Sandelin vs. O'Meara? Even when compared to
other recent mumbo jumbo du Jarmo--he took an octuple-bogey 12
in the South African PGA and wore spiked snakeskin cowboy boots
during the Volvo PGA--his rants about O'Meara's mismarked
two-foot putt seem silly. The People vs. Monty? Not bad, but
getting his goat is getting old.
What's aggravating about '98 is how close it has come to
providing the one impossibly wonderful tale, the one defining
moment, that would make the season the equal of its predecessor.
Jack Nicklaus rode a retro rocket against age as he surged into
contention on Sunday at Augusta. Alas, he couldn't make enough
putts. The colorful Helen Alfredsson--one wag has described her
as fluent in four languages: English, Swedish, body and
blue--won twice in the first two months but has been shut out
since. Tom Lehman, the perennial bridesmaid at the Open, was
again in the last pairing on Sunday and again came up short.
Can '98 be saved? Of course. Root for more Kuchar at the British
Open. While you're at it, root for 18-year-old amateur Sergio
(the Next Seve) Garcia as well as congenial 45-year-old '97
British Amateur champ Barclay Howard, the recovering alcoholic
who's so honest he DQ'd himself from last summer's U.S. Amateur.
Root for Senior tour journeyman John Jacobs, who, after winning
the Nationwide Championship, revealed that he likes to float on
a pontoon boat and talk to the ducks. Root for Casey at this
week's Greater Hartford Open and for Annika Sorenstam to win her
third Women's Open in four years. Most of all, root for Tiger.
Last year never looked so good.
Nobody's questioning the future of the game....The problem is
the here and now.