Most Improved Player
Thinking Big

Guys like Brian Gay are supposed to be obsolete on the
chicks-dig-the-long-ball PGA Tour. In a world of home run
hitters, Gay pops singles to the opposite field. Yet if the Tour
gave an award for most improved player, Gay, a soft-spoken
Alabamian, would win hands down.

It has gone largely unnoticed, but Gay, a seven-year pro in his
third season on the big Tour, is 39th on the money list ($1.2
million). He is known mostly as the poor guy who waited three
seconds too long for a hanging birdie putt to fall (10 seconds is
the limit) on the 71st hole of last year's Honda Classic. Gay was
assessed a one-stroke penalty, bogeyed the final hole and came in
fourth--instead of tied for second--at the time the best finish of
his career. He bounced back from that disappointment to go from
102nd in earnings at the end of the 2000 season to one good week
from the top 30 and a spot in the Nov. 1-4 Tour Championship.

How has he done this while ranking 190th (266 yards) on Tour in
driving distance? Like Tom Kite a generation ago, the 5'10",
155-pound Gay seldom misses a fairway (75%, 14th best on Tour) or
a green (67%, 76th) and is deadly from 100 yards in (fifth in
putting). Also like Kite, he's emerging as a top pro a little
later than his peers. (Gay will turn 30 on Dec. 14.)

A two-time All-America at Florida, in 1992 and '93, Gay led
Gators teams that won four SEC titles and an NCAA championship,
while he won the SEC individual crown twice. "In terms of
championships, his record at Florida is as good as anybody who
has played here," says Gators coach Buddy Alexander. "Brian is a
very underrated player. He's an unassuming guy with an unassuming
game. His golf IQ is extremely high, and his short game was
always Tour caliber."

Gay succeeds with consistency. Since the Genuity Championship in
March he has made the cut in 19 of 22 starts and has had four top
10 finishes. He's also plays well on Sunday. A final-round 65
lifted him to second, behind Sergio Garcia, at the Colonial, and
he closed with a 69 to come in fifth in New Orleans and with a 65
to end up sixth at the Buick Open.

Short is a relative term on Tour. Gay's normal drive is only 13
yards--about one club--below the Tour average but as many as 40
yards shorter than the long guys hit the ball. "I'd like to
drive farther," Gay says. "So many weeks it seems as if I can't
win even if I play really well because of the way courses are
set up."

Says fellow pro Paul Goydos, "If you're 190th in driving
distance, you've got to be a good putter, a pretty good middle-
and long-iron player, and smart to compete. Brian is like Loren
Roberts. Everybody talks about Loren's putting, but he's fabulous
with his middle and long irons. Brian has brains. He knows what
he's doing, and he's improving every year."

Although Gay enjoys his time at home in Orlando with his wife,
Kimberly, and their two-year-old daughter, Makinley, he intends
to play the final four tournaments of the season in an effort to
crack the top 30. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't.
"It has been a successful year regardless of how I finish," he
says. "There's been pressure, but it's been fun."

Charity Fund-raiser
Pine Valley Goes Public

Pine Valley has been the top-ranked course in the U.S. for 16
years, but since the club's opening in 1922, only its members,
who these days number about 1,200, and their guests have had the
chance to play the George Crump-designed course and enjoy a bowl
of the club's renowned turtle soup. That will change on
successive Mondays, Oct. 15 and 22, when the exclusive men's
club in Clementon, N.J., will be open to the public for the
first time.

On Sept. 25, Pine Valley announced that to raise money for the
Twin Towers Fund of New York City, which benefits the families of
the firemen, policemen and other uniformed personnel who died in
the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the club would
allow 140 golfers to play the course on Oct. 15 for a greens fee
of $1,000 each, with the proceeds going to the fund.

The club was overwhelmed with almost 2,000 requests from around
the world, and less than 24 hours later all the spots were
filled. When Pine Valley member Barney Adams found out the news
on the following day, he immediately speed-dialed the main number
for an hour. "It was like trying to get front-row tickets to the
Eagles. I wanted to participate, but I couldn't get through,"
Adams said from his house in Dallas. "I heard one of the members
drove to the course and wrote a check for $5,000 and then told
the club to give his spots to someone else."

Because of the heavy response, Pine Valley added the second day,
permitting 124 more golfers to play a round. "I've been a member
at Pine Valley for 20 years, and I've never been more proud to
be a member there than I am now," said Adams, founder of Adams
Golf. "You talk about a bastion of guys in funny clothes and
poke fun at the exclusiveness of the club, but in a difficult
time this first-class organization has come through to do a
first-class job."

Equipment
C-Thru Grip a Clear Winner

The future of golf grips is clear, and saying so is not a
transparent attempt to hype the most unusual equipment innovation
of the year: the C-Thru grip (c-thruputters.com). Manufactured by
Percise Golf in Pomona, Calif., and distributed by Mickey Novak,
a veteran clubmaker based at the David Leadbetter Academy in
Orlando, the C-Thru is made of Vulcathane rubber and is
transparent.

Available only in putter grips, the C-Thru is soft, tacky and
water repellent. Almost as important to marketers, a logo put on
the butt end of a shaft is visible through the grip. The grip is
already being seen on Tour. Charles Howell used one at the
Greater Milwaukee Open, in which he finished second. John Cook
played with a C-Thru over the logo of his alma mater, Ohio
State, when he won the Reno-Tahoe Open last month. Mike Hulbert
opted for the Stars and Stripes at the Texas Open. "As long as I
keep one-putting, I'm leaving it on," Hulbert says. Semiretired
Tour player Brad Bryant, who's helping Novak by promoting the
grip among his peers, used C-Thrus tinted with various colors
and emblazoned with his nickname, Dr. Dirt, on his irons at the
B.C. Open in July. "I got a lot of comments," Bryant says.
"Everybody thought they were cool."

Novak says he's adding two putter-grip designs and hopes to come
out with Tour-caliber grips for irons and woods. "The first ones
were good for amateurs who don't swing too hard," he says, "but
the grips were a little too spongy for better players."

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Gay, whose deft short game makes up for a lack of length, hopes to qualify for the Tour Championship. COLOR PHOTO: L.C. LAMBRECHT Pine Valley allows women only on Sundays after 3 p.m.

Trust Me

Freezing the Ryder Cup rosters so that the players who qualified
for the 2001 team will play in 2002 is a mistake. What happens
if Texas Open winner Justin Leonard--or anyone else not already
on either of the teams--reels off four or five victories before
next September? It won't only be silly but also unfair to leave
that player home.

Threesomes
What do these players have in common?

--Justin Leonard
--Bill Melhorn
--Arnold Palmer

They're the only golfers to win two or more consecutive Texas
Opens. Leonard prevailed in 2000 and '01, Melhorn in 1928 and
'29, and Palmer in '60, '61 and '62.

Feedback
Which weighed most heavily in the Ryder Cup postponement: the
logistical difficulties of international travel, as the PGA
claims, or Tiger Woods's avowed fear of flying abroad?

Logistics 34%
Woods's fear 66%

--Based on 1,780 responses to our informal survey

Next question: Do you agree or disagree with the decision to
freeze the Ryder Cup rosters? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.

Thesaurus
SYNONYMS for a GOLF WRITER

Animal, chop, hack, greenfly, media scum, noise, talking dog,
vulture

Numbers
With four events to go, the race for Senior tour player of the
year is the tightest since the tour's inception in 1983. Here
are the contenders.

$ RANK MAJORS WINS

Larry Nelson 4th 0 4
Bruce Fleisher 2nd 1 3
Allen Doyle 1st 1 2
Hale Irwin 3rd 0 2
Bruce Lietzke 16th 0 2
M. McCullough 11th 0 2
Gil Morgan 5th 0 2
Jim Thorpe 6th 0 2

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)