National Program Bears Fruit
Most Americans believe the U.S. will always crank out more good
young players than any other country, but while there may be a
greater quantity of golfers here, Australia is producing players
of higher quality. Twenty-two-year-old Brad Lamb won the
Victorian Open two weeks ago, marking the third time in less than
two months that an Aussie amateur had won on the Australasian
tour. The first was Aaron Baddeley, who at 18 held off Colin
Montgomerie and Greg Norman in the Australian Open in November.
The next week Brett Rumford, 22, won the ANZ Players
Championship. All three amateurs are products of Australia's
acclaimed national sports program, which has gained added
government and corporate support as an already sports-mad country
prepares for September's Sydney Games.
Australia has always produced good golfers, and some of
them--Peter Thomson, David Graham, Ian Baker-Finch, Steve
Elkington and Norman--have won majors. But Australians have tended
to be late bloomers, victims of an old-fashioned apprentice
system now abandoned, a lack of quality instruction and the long
distances they must travel to find top competition. "Many of us
made a lot of mistakes early," says Norman. "We often had to
unlearn things. There's no reason the next generation should
The national program was launched in 1992 to identify
talented players while they are in their early teens and to
provide them with the best training possible. The Victorian
Institute of Sport, in Melbourne, has already produced Tour
players Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby, among others, while
Baddeley and Lamb are members of the current 16-person class.
In addition to swing instructors, sports psychologists,
strength-and-conditioning coaches and nutritionists, players
receive career advice from professionals such as Norman. Most
important, Australian amateurs, unlike Americans, are allowed to
accept financial assistance to help defray the cost of traveling
outside the country.
The head coach at the Victorian Institute is Dale Lynch, a
41-year-old former tour pro whose swing mechanics were so poor
that he developed arthritis in his feet. "We no longer have to
convince our juniors that if they follow our program, they'll
have the tools to make a career in golf," he says. "We have a lot
of resources in Australia--good weather, access to a wide variety
of courses and a culture that emphasizes discipline and hard
Tough-mindedness is indeed a distinguishing trait among the
Aussies, says David Yates, who coordinates worldwide golf
recruiting for International Management Group. "Australians
aren't as spoon-fed as our kids," he says. "They seem to mature
faster and remain focused. For a good junior in the U.S., the
Tour is a dream. For a talented kid from Australia, pro golf is
seen as a livelihood right from the start, and he trains
Exhibit A is Baddeley. As part of his preparations for the
Masters--he is the first amateur in 25 years to have been invited
without qualifying--Baddeley recently called Norman to discuss
Augusta National. "Aaron is not afraid to ask questions, and he
has a very keen golfing mind," says Norman. "It was a pleasure to
open the vault."
Baddeley, who is 6'1" and 160 pounds, has also received sponsors'
exemptions to play the Honda Classic and the Bay Hill
Invitational in March and will then train in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
until the April 6-9 Masters. "My goal is to be better than Tiger
[Woods]," he says. "He's the benchmark."
Baddeley's plans do not include college. He intends to turn pro
after this year's U.S. Amateur in August and try to qualify for
the PGA Tour as soon as possible. If he makes it, Baddeley will
be eligible for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. (He was born in Lebanon,
N.H., while his father, Ron, was working as the chief mechanic
for the Mario Andretti racing team.) Playing alongside Woods
would be a hoot, but Baddeley says he would much rather beat
Tiger playing for the Internationals in the Presidents Cup.
Best Closers Ever
TIGER'S STREAK SECOND TO NONE
How extraordinary is Tiger Woods's record of winning 13 straight
Tour events in which he has either held or shared the lead going
into the final round? Considering that the third-round leader
comes out on top less than four out of 10 times, it is quite
extraordinary. In fact, it has never been equaled.
Only Johnny Miller has come close to matching Woods. From 1972 to
'75 he won 11 consecutive tournaments in which he led after three
rounds. Miller's mark at the beginning of his career, when he
successfully closed on 12 of his first 13 chances, a .923 winning
clip, also approaches Tiger's current record of 13 of 14 (.929).
Miller won the first time he had a third-round lead, at the 1971
Southern, but lost the second time, at the '72 Crosby. His 11
straight front-running victories followed. Miller ended his
career 15-5 (.750) as a closer.
The Tour has been keeping track of such things since 1970, and in
that time no one else who has held the third-round lead at least
10 times has come close to matching Woods or Miller. Jack
Nicklaus went 24-11 (.686) from 1970 to the '82 Bay Hill Classic,
the last time he had a third-round lead, and his longest streak
was seven in a row. Although Lee Trevino and Tom Watson both had
eight-tournament streaks, Trevino was 16-9 (.640) and Watson
26-19 (.578) overall.
The worst front-runner ever? That dubious title is held by Greg
Norman, who has brought home the bacon on only nine of 24 (.375)
A ROOKIE TAKES DEAD AIM
Tiger-like entrances are rare in pro golf, but the bet here is
that Grace Park makes one. As Woods was in 1996, Park is a
20-year-old U.S. Amateur and NCAA champ with a classic swing and
power to burn. At last year's U.S. Open, the 5'6", 125-pound Park
led the field in driving distance by nine yards. In 1997, as a
high school senior, Park beat Michelle McGann in a long-drive
contest. Before last year's NCAAs, Park whipped other collegians
with a wind-aided shot of 342 yards.
Park, who opens her season at this week's Subaru Memorial in
Naples, Fla., is also as ambitious as Woods. Asked if her goal
was to become this year's Rookie of the Year, Park said, "I'm
actually shooting to win Player of the Year. I like to set my
goals as high as possible, and that's pretty high."
After turning pro last summer Park won five of 10 events on the
Futures tour, earning enough--like Woods--to bypass Q school. In
just her second LPGA start as a pro she tied for second.
Park has had plenty of endorsement opportunities but so far has
refused to hire an agent. She is betting that her performance
will only strengthen her bargaining position. That sort of
brashness from a rookie usually doesn't sit well with the other
players, but in the case of Amazing Grace, no one who has seen
her play doubts she'll back it up.
Ugh to this week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Five days on four
dull courses. Arnie shooting 80. Gerald Ford in search of the
perfect shank. Blue hair, bad rugs and Coogi sweaters. That'll
all change when ol' Ski Nose isn't around anymore, and that's
when we'll look back at this last vestige of the old Tour and,
like the Crosby, really miss it.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only full-time Tour players who have more wins than
Tiger Woods's 16. Crenshaw has 19, Norman 18 and Strange 17.
Will Casey Martin, who makes his debut as a PGA Tour member this
week, win a tournament in 2000?
--Based on 1,512 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Will Tiger Woods break Byron Nelson's record of 11
straight victories? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
SYNONYMS for a TOUR TERM
Backspin [n]: Bite, brakes, bunta, English, fizz, fu, grip, jazz,
jism, jiz, juice, mojo, sauce, stick, stop, stuff, suckage,
suction, teeth, tour sauce, whipass, woofus, zip.
TV loves Tiger. In the 10 most-watched final rounds last season,
Woods was in contention in all of them. Here are the
highest-rated final rounds and Woods's finish in those
1 Masters 18 10.1
2 PGA 1 6.9
3 U.S. Open T3 6.8
4 Buick Invit'l 1 6.3
5 Nissan T2 5.3
6 British Open T7 4.8
7 NEC 1 4.8
8 Players T10 4.6
9 Memorial 1 3.8
10 Western 1 3.6
Jenny Ritchie, Wanganui, New Zealand
On Dec. 31 Ritchie, 51, a landscape gardener, made the fifth
hole in one of her life, using a seven-iron on the 137-yard 7th
hole at Wanganui Golf Club's Belmont Course. Then on New Year's
Day, Ritchie, who plays to a four handicap, made her sixth ace,
with the same club on the same hole.
Filippa Hansson, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Hansson, 22, rallied for a one-shot victory in the Joanne
Winter Arizona Silver Belle Championship at Wigwam Golf Resort
in Litchfield Park. Trailing by two strokes entering the final
round, Hansson, a member of Duke's 1999 NCAA championship team,
shot a one-under 71, the tournament's only subpar round.
Crystal Elliers, Chalmette, La.
Elliers, who turned 18 last Saturday, shot a three-round 231 to
win the girls' division of the Can-Am Junior at the Grenelefe
Golf Resort in Haines City, Fla. Elliers, the 1999 Louisiana high
school champ, attends the University of New Orleans, where she
shares the women's school record for the best single-round score
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