Tour Lull Offers Opportunity
LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE
The first major of the year is behind us, and the next one isn't
until June. No World tour event is in the offing, and Tiger
Woods won't be out again until the May 11-14 GTE Byron Nelson
Classic. We are in the midst of the first lull of the season on
the PGA Tour. Welcome to the Dead Zone.
Many players used the MCI Classic, on Hilton Head Island, S.C.,
to decompress after the Masters, so the Dead Zone didn't begin
until last week's Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic. Among the
top 20 players in the World Ranking, only six--the winner, Hal
Sutton (fourth), a victory-starved Davis Love III (sixth),
defending champ Jesper Parnevik (eighth), Jim Furyk (11th), Tom
Lehman (13th) and Justin Leonard (19th)--showed up, so it was no
surprise we saw the likes of Barry Cheesman, Jonathan Kaye and
Omar Uresti on the leader board.
This week's Shell Houston Open is even deader. Late pullouts by
Colin Montgomerie (third) and Vijay Singh (fifth) mean that only
three top 20 players were scheduled to tee it up--the tireless
Sutton, Carlos Franco (16th) and Leonard. Things will liven up a
bit next week at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans, where Sutton
will complete the Dead Zone Triple and be joined by defending
champ Franco, Ernie Els (seventh), Nick Price (ninth) and Phil
Mickelson (12th). Still, just about everyone from last fall's Q
school will be there as well.
The Dead Zone is harvest time for rank-and-file players because
it's easier to make a big check--and lock up a spot among the
top 125 on the money list, which guarantees a Tour card for next
year--when the big dogs are not in the field. Of course, saying
so violates the Tour's macho code. "Everybody here believes his
best stuff is good enough to beat anybody," says career
nonwinner John Maginnes, currently 150th in earnings. "If you
don't, you're in the wrong profession." Adds Dennis Paulson, "I
can't imagine a player calling the Tour and asking which events
Tiger's not going to play in and then entering them."
Whatever. The reality is that for run-of-the-mill pros,
tournaments such as the Tucson Open are a godsend. Played
opposite the Andersen Consulting Match Play, which featured the
top 64 players, this year's Tucson was won by journeyman Jim
Carter, with fellow travelers Chris DiMarco and Tom Scherrer
tying for second.
Last year several marginal players got new life during the Dead
Zone. At Houston, Mark Wiebe's fourth was his best finish of the
year and the biggest reason he finished 105th on the money list.
At New Orleans, Craig Barlow and Eric Booker, who ended up 124th
and 127th, respectively, on the money list and barely stayed
exempt, tied for fourth. In addition to those unknown soldiers
who played well last week, here are three other journeymen I
think will rise from the Dead Zone this year.
1) Scott McCarron He's emerging from a yearlong slump. Last
season he was 12th in New Orleans, where he won in 1996.
2) Dennis Paulson A talented power player who is excellent with
his wedges, he began a good run of tournaments about this time
last year, tying for fourth in New Orleans, where he set the
course record in 1994 with a 62.
3) Frank Lickliter A steady campaigner who's due for a strong
finish, he was in the hunt at Houston last year until closing
with a 76. He also led in New Orleans after the first round
before coming in 28th.
NEW BALLS ARE MAKING A MARK
The wound ball, a staple of professionals for nearly a century,
is losing its preeminence among better players. Wound, or
three-piece, balls--made with a liquid-filled rubber center
surrounded by rubber windings and a soft cover--have been
favored by top professionals because they are easy to spin and
control. Even when new multilayered balls with softer synthetic
covers were introduced in the 1980s, most pros stayed with the
tried and true. Today, though, more pros use nonwound balls than
ever before. At the '99 Players Championship, for example, the
Darrell Survey reported that 114 of the 144 Tour golfers used a
wound ball. This season 107 did. The trend is more apparent on
the Senior and LPGA tours. At last year's Countrywide Tradition,
67 of the 79 Seniors used a wound ball. This season that number
shrank to 45 of 79. At last season's Nabisco Championship, 63 of
the 103 women played a wound ball. At this year's tournament
just 52 of 102 did.
While nonwound balls are making inroads overall, three-piece
balls continue to dominate in the winner's circle, at least on
two American tours. This year 14 of 17 tournaments on the PGA
Tour have been won by a player using a wound ball. The same has
been true in nine out of 10 LPGA events. On the Senior tour,
however, only five of the 11 winners have used a wound ball.
The ball has traditionally been the one piece of equipment that
professionals are most reluctant to switch, so why are so many
changing now? The answer is money, improved technology and extra
distance. Three large companies recently began making balls
(Callaway, Nike and Taylor Made) and are pushing their products
on the tours, offering some players six-figure contracts to play
The vast majority of pros, however, are paid only a small sum to
use a particular ball--most are part of so-called performance
pools and can earn up to $100,000 a week for winning a major
while playing a certain ball. Some of these players feel that
the latest nonwound technology provides the control, spin and
consistency they desire. Finally, there is the belief that
nonwound balls go a few yards farther, which helps explain why
the switch has been more pronounced on the Senior and LPGA
tours, where distance is particularly valued.
The LPGA will never be big time until it plugs the holes in its
schedule. A month ago the women had buzz. The Sorenstam sisters
put an emotional end to Karrie Webb's winning streak, only to
have Webb top that with a 10-stroke triumph in the season's
first major. Then the LPGA went dark for three of four
weeks--and the buzz vanished.
What do these players have in common?
--Babe Didrikson Zaharias
They're the only women to reach 20 wins in less time than Karrie
Webb since the LPGA's first full season in 1950.
Would you use an illegal driver if it added 15 yards to your tee
--Based on 5,970 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Do you think David Duval will win a major this
year? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
SYNONYMS for the GOLF BALL
Ammo, BB, balata, bean, Bufferin, bullet, club special, crater
face, cull, dimples, egg, flying lady, kro-flite, lozenge,
marble, nugget, orb, pea, pearl, pellet, pelota, pill, podo,
projectile, rock, seed, shell, spheroid, slug, Surlyn surprise,
tablet, white devil.
Texans stand tall on the Texas swing. Among those who grew up or
now live in the Lone Star State, here's who has played the best
at Houston, the Nelson and the Colonial.
Starts Wins Top 10s Earnings*
Bruce Lietzke 69 4 15 $1,027
Ben Crenshaw 74 3 20 $912
Jeff Maggert 26 0 6 $785
David Frost 37 1 9 $698
Tom Kite 70 0 17 $643
William Ely, Boynton Beach, Fla.
Ely, an 88-year-old retired lieutenant general, shot a one-under
71 at Quail Ridge Country Club. Since 1987, Ely has bettered his
age more than 1,300 times. A World War II veteran, Ely served on
Midway Island, in Australia and in Japan and, after retiring
from the military in 1966, owned and operated what is now
Dogwood Hills Golf Course in Claysville, Pa.
Jess Daley, Kent, Wash.
Daley, a senior at Northwestern, led the fifth-ranked Wildcats
to the team title at the Kepler Intercollegiate in Columbus,
Ohio, by taking medalist honors with a six-under 210. The week
before the Kepler, Daley finished third at the Compaq
Collegiate, shooting a 10-under 62 in the final round at
Eldorado Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Mitch Adams, Cary, N.C.
Adams, 43, won the North Carolina Mid-Amateur Championship with
a three-under 213 at Treyburn Country Club in Durham. It was the
first individual title for Adams, a former club pro who regained
his amateur status in 1988. The victory earned Adams a berth on
the Carolinas team that will meet a squad of amateurs from the
Virginias in October.
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.
Born to Win Major Championships
A very good year, 1957. It gave us classic versions of the Chevy
Nomad and the T-Bird, Sputnik and Miles Ahead. It was also the
most abundant year for spawning championship golfers. Born in
1957 were Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Price, Payne
Stewart, Bernhard Langer, Mark O'Meara, Jeff Sluman and Wayne
Grady. Among them, they have won 23 majors. Only the babies of
1912--Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead--came close to
matching that number, combining for 21 majors. Nancy Lopez, who
has won three LPGA majors, was also born in 1957. Here's an
update on the class.
Birthday: July 18
Majors: 1987 British Open, 1989 Masters, 1990 Masters, 1990
British, 1992 British, 1996 Masters
Comment: The player who in 19 straight majors from 1988 through
'92 never finished out of the top 20 is no more. Faldo's
problems stem from horrible putting. He ranked 182nd in putting
in '98 and is 149th this year. But because his drive hasn't
diminished, he has a chance to recapture some of his past glory.
Birthday: April 9
Majors: 1979 British Open, 1980 Masters, 1983 Masters, 1984
British Open, 1988 British Open
Comment: Sadly, Seve, who last made a cut in a major at the 1996
Masters, has fallen off the world. His swing is a disaster,
though his short game and putting are still world class. Seve has
too much mental scar tissue to hold up in a major again. As a
world-class player, he's done.
Birthday: Jan. 28
Majors: 1992 PGA Championship, 1994 British Open, 1994 PGA
Comment: Still a perennial contender in the big ones, he has been
sixth or better in four of the last eight majors. Price hits the
ball as solidly as anyone, but he simply doesn't putt well enough
to win. If he can lose his negative attitude on the greens, a la
Vijay Singh, Price might have one more major in him.
Birthday: Jan. 30
Majors: 1989 PGA, 1991 U.S. Open, 1999 U.S. Open
Comment: An easily distracted player, he was hyperattentive in
the majors, with 18 top 10s. Stewart was exceptional at shaping
shots and playing around the greens. He also putted better in
majors. Stewart would have been extremely motivated to win a
British, where he was second in '85 and '90.
Birthday: Aug. 27
Majors: 1985 Masters, 1993 Masters
Comment: Last year he finished 11th at the Masters and 18th at
the British Open. Never a great ball striker, Langer has gotten
shorter and less consistent, but he is a supreme course manager.
Always in good shape, he could enjoy a Gary Player-like
renaissance late in his career.
Birthday: Jan. 13
Majors: 1998 Masters, 1998 British Open
Comment: After a magnificent '98, O'Meara dropped off so
precipitously that he is considering a TV job. He missed the cut
in three of the last four majors and is short and crooked off
the tee, but he can still putt as well as anyone. With Tiger
Woods pushing him, he isn't quite done.
Birthday: Sept. 11
Major: 1988 PGA Championship
Comment: He remains a steady major performer. A lack of length
and a low ball flight hinder him in championship conditions;
nevertheless, he has seven top 10 finishes in majors. Look for
him to get into contention occasionally and possibly pick up a
surprise second major.
Birthday: July 26
Major: 1990 PGA Championship
Comment: He stopped being competitive after moving back to
Australia five years ago. Then again, his win at Shoal Creek and
his playoff loss at the '89 British Open were surprises. When
his 10-year Tour exemption expires at the end of this year, he
will be finished as a competitor.