Search

Same Old Story At Hartford, as in this year's majors, a veteran pro carried the day

July 13, 1998
July 13, 1998

Table of Contents
July 13, 1998

Boxing [bonus Piece]

Same Old Story At Hartford, as in this year's majors, a veteran pro carried the day

On the par-4 15th hole last Friday during the Canon Greater
Hartford Open at the TPC at River Highlands, David Duval faced a
dilemma. Should he play the 296-yard hole conservatively, or
should he, as one of the longest hitters on the Tour, try to
drive the green? Duval, 26, a part-time surfer who could pass
for an X Games participant, went for the big jack, dude. He
pushed his tee shot, however, into the woods, and within seconds
Duval was transformed from a ball smacker into a bushwhacker.

This is an article from the July 13, 1998 issue Original Layout

Scott Hoch, the gritty veteran who played with Duval the first
three days, faced no such quandary. Hoch, 42, entered the
tournament ranked 100th on the Tour in driving distance. So at
the 15th he chose a three-iron and laid up a comfortable 75
yards short of the green, a distance from which he could play to
his strength. He wedged to within birdie distance, narrowly
missed the putt and moved on to the next adventure-free hole.

Never mind that Duval eventually found his ball in the shrubbery
and salvaged par. The difference between his in-your-face
approach and Hoch's cool efficiency typifies the generation gap
among today's Tour pros. "I let the bombers go ahead and think
they're overpowering me," Hoch said last week between long swigs
on a Diet Coke, the paunch-friendly beverage of choice among the
Dockers and David Sandborne set. "Then I chip my little wedge up
there and make birdie and watch them scramble. It's great to hit
it long, but you also have to hit it straight. I think people
overlook the fact that a lot of the middle-aged guys have some
talent too."

If 1997 was the Year of the Tiger, '98 is shaping up as the Year
of Le Tigre, the decidedly unhip apparel. Particularly in the
big-ticket events, the Generation Xers have been cast aside like
dweebs in a mosh pit, and the heftiest checks are being cashed
by veritable pensioners, the Tour's legion of steady if
unspectacular 35- to 45-year-olds. Last year the average age of
winners of the four majors--Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Justin
Leonard and Davis Love III--was 26 1/2 . So far this year, after
the Masters and the U.S. Open, the score is minoxidil two,
mousse zero. (O.K., so maybe Mark O'Meara and Lee Janzen, the
two winners, aren't quite Polident pitchmen, but at 41 and 33,
respectively, and with more than 700 starts between them,
neither has the kind of edgy talent that's helping golf achieve
unprecedented popularity among younger people.) What's more, of
the top five finishers in the '98 majors, 10 players in all,
only two have been under 30.

What gives? Why are the young guns--a group that includes Els,
Duval, Leonard and Woods, along with Jim Furyk and Phil
Mickelson, firing blanks in the battles with the highest stakes?
"I believe in coincidences, too," says Brad Faxon, 36, who
finished 56th at Hartford, "but experience makes a lot of
difference out here, especially in the majors. David Toms just
told me that he has never been to the British Open and asked if
it's much different than this. I told him you can't describe the
difference. You can hit a wedge that goes 175 yards and a
two-iron that goes 110. The more you play, the more you learn."

The shift in the balance of power was apparent at Hartford,
where Olin Browne made the most out of a 72nd-hole bogey by
another 39-year-old, Larry Mize, to win a three-man playoff that
also included defending champ Stewart Cink. Hoch, who had shared
the lead with Mize after 54 holes, tied for seventh with Duval.

Doug Tewell, who's just 13 months removed from the Senior tour,
finished only a shot out of the playoff and has a theory similar
to Faxon's. "David Duval is a friend of mine, and he jokes
around and calls me Old Man," says Tewell, who works as a
commentator for the Golf Channel and was playing in only his
sixth event this season. "But I was waiting forever to hit my
tee shot at 15 because David was looking for his ball in the
woods. A lot of these young guys have tremendous talent and hit
the ball so purely, but sometimes it's more important to know
how to play under pressure and to be a fighter who's mentally
tough."

Despite the success of the old guard last week, two members of
the twentysomething crowd, Leonard and Casey Martin, drew the
biggest galleries. Martin accepted a sponsor's exemption at
Hartford and made history as the first player to use a cart
during a Tour event.

How recognizable has Martin, who missed the cut with a four-over
144, become in the past few months? Following his 23rd-place
finish at the U.S. Open, he accompanied his niece to Disneyland
for a day. While Martin was standing in line for a ride, a
character outfitted as Tigger, Winnie-the-Pooh's whiskered
cohort, pointed at Martin and simulated a golf swing. Shortly
thereafter, Mary Poppins noticed him as well. "I was like, 'Oh,
no, this isn't happening,'" says Martin, "but it was kind of
funny. My brother [Cameron] said you know you're a somebody when
Disneyland characters recognize you."

Leonard, the reigning British Open champ, came to Hartford
hoping to elevate his game, particularly after a disappointing
U.S. Open in which he finished 40th. His five-under 275 was
solid, but only good for 31st. The rare whippersnapper whose
game is as conservative as Strom Thurmond's politics, Leonard,
26, believes that age is no more relevant to a golfer's success
than his hair color. "I don't look at someone as an old guy or a
young guy," he says. "If anything, the younger players are
coming out with more experience. I played seven pro tournaments
my junior year of college, and now with the Nike tour, when guys
get out here, they're ready to win. You have to be composed out
there, but that doesn't necessarily come from age."

Among those hoping to depose Leonard next week at Royal
Birkdale, an unforgiving links course 175 miles northwest of
London on the Irish Sea, is Hoch, a surprise entrant who will be
as well received in England as David Beckham at a hooligans'
rally. British fans--to say nothing of the press--will surely
recall that in 1996 Hoch eschewed the British Open, declaring
hallowed St. Andrews "the worst piece of mess I've ever seen."
He then burnished his ugly-American reputation by playing in the
Dutch Open the next week for a comely appearance fee. For this
he was roundly upbraided, most notably by Faxon, who labeled
Hoch "a disgrace" and suggested that he not be permitted to play
on the Presidents or Ryder Cup teams.

Two years later, although still rankled by Faxon's comments,
Hoch expresses excitement about playing in only his third
British Open. He even plans on bringing along his wife and
children, who may provide invaluable emotional support should he
receive the same treatment Colin Montgomerie got from some
Yankee yahoos at Olympic during the U.S. Open. "I'm not going to
get caught up in the past, but I like my chances there as much
as anyone's," says Hoch. "I'm playing well, and I think this is
an event that favors experienced players who are good at
positioning and know how to keep the ball down."

In other words, we shouldn't be surprised if yet another one of
the artful codgers ends up drinking his preferred diet potation
from the claret jug.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN FIRST STRIKE Browne, 39, won his first Tour title by chipping in for birdie to open a three-man playoff. [Olin Browne and another man on golf course]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN SEND THE WORD Hoch, criticized for not playing the British Open often enough, likes his chances next week at Royal Birkdale. [Scott Hoch golfing]
"You can hit a wedge that goes 175 yards and a two-iron that
goes 110," says Faxon.