IN FAT CITY
It took 12 years, but ex-boxer Esteban Toledo finally has a grip
on pro golf's brass ring
This is an article from the Jan. 18, 1999 issue
My first day at school, a kid beat me up," says Esteban Toledo,
pound for pound the toughest pro on the PGA Tour. "I didn't know
how to fight. I went to the gym and began to learn how to box."
Such humble beginnings mark the career of Toledo, the golfer, as
well. The 36-year-old former fighter, whose four-year career (12
wins, one loss) as a lightweight was TKO'd in 1983 by
appendicitis, has weathered more body shots than most during his
life in spikes. He tended bar, polished shoes and gathered range
balls at the club across the river from his boyhood home in
Mexicali, Mexico, so he could play once a week there. He shot in
the 100s, simmering over losing to his friends but swallowing
enough of his pride to ask them for help. After learning to play
enough to turn pro, when he was 23, he weathered 12 straight
years of the Tour's Q school, twice missing his card by a
shot--once, in '96, when rain canceled the final round.
All of which makes Toledo's current position such a delightful
departure. Toledo got his '99 Tour card the easy way, by
finishing 93rd on the '98 money list with $327,244. Last month,
while would-be Tourists were grinding at Q school, Toledo could
worry about other things--like Christmas. He'll walk among the
pineapples and coconuts this week at the Sony Open at Honolulu's
Waialae Country Club, and while he could be excused for stopping
to reflect on one of the most unconventional success stories on
Tour, he probably won't give it a thought. He'll be too busy
fighting, still wary of the left hook.
"I don't give up for anything," Toledo says. "I never give up.
That's why I'm so competitive. I had an anger that all those
guys I played with beat me. I started practicing to try to get
As a boy, Toledo fished balls out of a pond at Mexicali Country
Club with his toes and sold them back to the golfers. He found a
seven-iron in a ditch and started hitting rocks with it,
sometimes sneaking on to play the three holes closest to his
house--numbers 3, 5 and 14--with one eye on the horizon lest he
get caught. "I hit it out of the bunker with the seven-iron," he
says. "I putted with the seven-iron. I did everything with the
Toledo took up boxing later on, while he was working at the
club. After the appendicitis, "I just decided I had enough," he
says. "I didn't want to get hurt. It wasn't the sport for me to
make money." He began to concentrate on golf.
In 1984 John Minnis, a California businessman and a friend of
Toledo's family, sponsored Esteban for U.S. citizenship. At that
point, says Minnis, Toledo didn't know who Jack Nicklaus was.
Two years later, at his first Tour event, the Houston Open,
Toledo shot 79-81 and missed the cut by 15 shots. In his first
32 Tour events he missed the cut 20 times, falling back on the
Nike tour to pay the bills. "It was difficult to change from a
rough sport to a nice sport," he says. "I never thought I was
going to be that good in golf. The dedication I got in boxing
took me where I am in golf."
Toledo's slow rise reached a zenith at last July's CVS Charity
Classic, during which he shot a career-low 64 in the final round
to tie for seventh and win $43,650, all but locking up a Tour
card for a man who's looking less like an outsider each day.
"When you have something in mind," he says, "a dream that you
want to reach, and you work on it and you do it, that's a very,
very good feeling."
MITCHELL MIFFED AT NIKE PURSES
Stiles Mitchell, the Nike tour's master blaster, hits hard off
the course as well as on it. Mitchell, whose 306.7-yard driving
average was the longest on any pro tour in '98, last week ripped
the inequity between purses on the swoosh circuit and the PGA
Tour, citing the $37.6 million increase in prize money on the
latter. "We're playing for less than 10 percent of what they're
playing for," Mitchell said at the South Florida Open in Pompano
Beach, where Curt Byrum birdied the last three holes and beat
Stan Utley with a par on the first hole of sudden-death. "If you
have a great year out here, you might make a $75,000 profit.
That's a good week on the PGA Tour. It's like [PGA Tour
officials] are depressing the Nike tour so that nobody makes any
money or gets any attention."
Mitchell also blamed the Tour for failing to beat the drum for
his accomplishments, but 6'2", 270-pound Big Daddy must share
some responsibility for his pint-sized reputation. Although he
won the Permian Basin Open last August, that was his only top 25
finish. He finished 51st in Pompano Beach.
As for Mitchell's complaints about prize money, Nike alumnus
Olin Browne said, "I know you can make enough out there to
support a family, because I did. The Nike tour is not meant to
be a scholarship program for the guys who haven't made the Tour."
Lawsuit a la Cart
A CASE IS MADE AGAINST SANDERS
Deion Sanders's $30,000 golf cart--his summertime wheels at the
Dallas Cowboys' training camp in Wichita Falls, Texas--is at the
center of a lawsuit involving him, his aunt Annette Moss and his
eight-year-old daughter, Deiondra. Filed last month by Gordon
McFadden of Quinlan, Texas, the suit seeks recovery of damages
for the fractured right leg and ankle McFadden sustained last
According to Wichita Falls police, Deiondra was wearing in-line
skates while driving the cart when she ran into McFadden, who
was at camp repairing the air conditioning in Sanders's
customized bus. The suit claims that Sanders was negligent for
allowing his daughter access to the cart and that Moss shouldn't
have allowed Deiondra to drive, especially not while wearing
Sanders's cart has a convertible roof, a tinted windshield, a
five-inch TV, a misting system to cool riders, a $6,000 Pioneer
stereo system, headlights, chrome bumpers, gold rims, a vanity
license plate that reads FULL TIME, leather seats inscribed
PRIME TIME 21 and a seven-battery, 42-volt, five-horsepower
electric motor (the cart's top speed: 22 mph). "It's easily the
most opulent cart we've ever made, and we've built them for
everybody--John Elway, Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra," says
George Thomas, general manager of Western Golf Car of Desert Hot
Springs, Calif., the U.S.'s largest custom-golf-car maker.
The only thing missing on Sanders's cart is a rack to hold
clubs. Prime Time doesn't play golf.
Watson's K.C. Miss
HE'S THREE DAYS TOO YOUNG
Since its inception in 1987, the Kansas City Classic at Tiffany
Greens Golf Club has struggled to draw the Senior tour's heavy
hitters. Last year's tournament, for example, featured six of
the top 10 but none of the top four players on the final '98
money list, leaving George Brett (looping for pal Larry Ziegler,
who won) as the most famous man on the scene. Which is why it's
unfortunate that local hero Tom Watson, 49, will be three days
too young to inject some life into this year's tournament.
Watson's business manager, Chuck Rubin, says his man would have
played at Kansas City, which will run from Sept. 3 to Sept. 5,
but Senior rules state that a player must be 50 when he plays
his first "obligated" round--in this case the Sept. 1 pro-am.
Watson doesn't hit the half-century mark until Sept. 4. Neither
Watson nor Rubin has complained, but others have.
"You can't let a guy play before he's 50," responds Senior tour
spokesman Phil Stambaugh. "Otherwise you might as well let David
Duval play. I had one radio station in Kansas City call me and
say our rule is a crock."
NEW DRUG AIMED AT LYME DISEASE
SmithKline Beecham, having tested 10,936 people, has received
approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a
product called LYMErix, the world's first vaccine against Lyme
disease, which is transmitted mainly by deer ticks. Golfers are
susceptible to the disease to the degree that they spend time in
the rough. If untreated, Lyme can affect the victim's joints,
heart and nervous system. Three LYMErix injections, spaced as
directed, is the recommended dosage. With luck, next time you
hook your ball into the woods, the only thing you'll have to
worry about is finding it.
UP & DOWN
Charlie Rymer Bob Rosburg
Sony (Hawaiian) Open Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
David Duval Phil Mickelson
Tim Finchem Buzz Taylor
Emmett Below, Naples, Fla.
Below, 89, a 15 handicapper who has been playing golf for 68
years, made his first hole in one on Nov. 6 with a pitching
wedge on the 75-yard 7th hole at Bentley Village Country Club,
an executive course in Naples. He made his second ace three
weeks later, with an eight-iron, on Bentley's 73-yard 4th hole.
Jennifer Rosales, Manila, Philippines
Rosales, a sophomore at USC and the reigning NCAA champ, won the
Golf World Invitational in Hilton Head, S.C., and all three of
her matches--including a 3-and-1 decision over Duke's Jenny
Chuasiriporn--in the Rolex National Match Play, a team
competition at the Indian River Club in Vero Beach, Fla.
Ed Updegraff, Tucson
Updegraff, 76, a retired urologist, is the recipient of this
year's Bob Jones Award, the USGA's top honor, which is given in
recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The winner
of the 1981 Senior Amateur, Updegraff also played in six Masters
and was on three Walker Cup teams.
Ji-Min Kang, Edmonds, Wash.
Kang, 18, won the Orange Bowl International junior tournament at
Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla., with an even-par 216
(73-69-74) to top Germany's Miriam Nagl by a shot. Kang also won
two AJGA titles in '98 and was the Pacific Northwest Golf
Association's junior girl player of the year.
How will the huge increases in purses this year affect your
interest in the PGA Tour?
Don't care 55%
More interested 36%
Less interested 9%
--Based on 1,931 responses to our informal survey
Next question: How many tournaments will David Duval win in
1999? To vote, go to www.CNNSI.com/golf.
The Andersen Consulting Match Play, Feb. 24-28 at La Costa
Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., is the first of three new $5
million World Golf Championships in '99. Only the top 64 players
on the World Ranking qualify for the Match Play. With five PGA
Tour events and five European tour events left before the cutoff
date (Feb. 15), these players are on the bubble.
RANK PTS. AVG.
60. Michael Bradley, U.S. 2.53
61. Paul Azinger, U.S. 2.52
62. Stephen Leaney, Aus. 2.52
63. Per-Ulrik Johansson, Swe. 2.50
64. Frank Nobilo, New Zealand 2.49
65. Craig Stadler, U.S. 2.48
66. Peter O'Malley, Aus. 2.41
67. Robert Karlsson, Swe. 2.38
68. Greg Chalmers, Aus. 2.37
What do these players have in common?
They're the only PGA Tour players in their 20s who have won
seven or more tournaments.