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The Week

April 01, 2002
April 01, 2002

Table of Contents
April 1, 2002

Pro Basketball
Baseball

The Week

Edited By Alan Shipnuck

NEW POSTER GIRL
Laura Diaz makes the case for substance over style

This is an article from the April 1, 2002 issue Original Layout

There has been so much talk lately about the physical appearance
of LPGA players that it has become easy to forget that they are
athletes, not fashion models. Last week's Welch's/Circle K
Championship was a welcome reminder that it's possible to
balance cutthroat competition with a little slice of cheesecake.
In a thrilling battle that went down to the 72nd hole, promising
fourth-year pro Laura Diaz trumped Hall of Famer Juli Inkster
for the first victory of her career. Diaz closed the deal with a
birdie on the 458-yard par-5 finishing hole at Randolph North
Golf Course, in Tucson, which she reached in two with a 291-yard
drive and a six-iron.

Nancy Lopez once observed that what fans want from the LPGA is
someone who looks like a woman but plays like a man. Enter Diaz.
Last season she led the LPGA in eagles and was fourth in
birdies--and wore some of the shortest shorts on tour. She also
caused a stir by promoting this year's hot-button issue, "selling
sex," to use Diaz's blunt term. For all the discussion about her
blue-eyed good looks, what truly sets pulses racing is Diaz's
fearless style of play.

Over the first three rounds last week she went 14 under without
making a bogey, leaving her two strokes behind the leader,
Inkster. Diaz seemed poised to finally break through after a
frustrating 2001 during which she amassed four runner-up
finishes. On Sunday she three-putted the first two holes for
bogey but never backed off. Three straight birdies, beginning at
the 3rd hole, put Diaz back in the ball game. She caught Inkster
with brilliant iron play on the back nine and never trailed after
a birdie at the par-3 15th, where she stuck a nine-iron to six
feet.

Afterward, Diaz credited her Zen-like calm in the clutch to
breathing lessons she learned during off-season yoga classes. The
yoga was only part of a self-improvement program that included
rigorous weight training and marathon practice sessions. In a
triumph of substance over style, Diaz has earned a rep as one of
the tour's hardest workers, though, she says, "it's not really
work, because I'm usually practicing with someone I love."

Her father owns the eponymous Ron Philos' School of Golf on
Amelia Island, Fla., and Diaz's brother, Ron Jr., and husband,
Kevin, work there as teaching pros. Another former teacher at the
school is Bob Duval, the Senior tour mainstay. Diaz counts his
son, David, as a close friend, and there are parallels in their
careers. "I think Laura's going to explode, just as David did,"
says LPGA vet Deb Richard, which is to say, now that she has that
first victory she's a threat to add to the total every week.
Certainly Diaz plans to continue winning. "My long-term goal is
the Hall of Fame," she says.

Diaz is sanguine about a recent honor that she missed out
on--inclusion in the playboy.com poll that featured nine of her
colleagues. "It was probably a good thing," she says. "It has
gotten me out of the sex spotlight for a while." She has
weightier matters to worry about now--like winning golf
tournaments.

Trust Me

Forget Craig Perks, Johnny Miller was the real Sunday hero at
the Players Championship. He saved a mostly somnolent telecast
with some of his spikiest commentary ever--brutal, bombastic and
unabashedly enthusiastic.

Bottom LINES
by Sal Johnson

Craig Perks's victory at the Players was worth $1,065,000 more
than his last win, a Hooters tour event in Natchez, Miss., in
1995, when he raked in $15,000.... Perks jumped from 203rd to
64th in the World Ranking, the biggest move into the top 75 in
the 16-year history of the ranking, surpassing John Daly's surge
from 169 to 54 following his win at the 1991 PGA Championship....
Defending champion Tiger Woods finished 14th on rounds of
71-72-70-74, the first time since the 1999 British Open that he
failed to crack 70 in a tournament.... Woods was last in putting,
with 133, the highest total of his career.... High winds sent
scores soaring in the final round at the Madeira Island Open
(average score: 75.08), but Diego Borrego of Spain shot a 69 for
his second victory on the European tour.

O. B.

Eddie Merrins (below, with pupil Robert Wagner), the esteemed
head pro at Bel-Air Country Club, will retire in August after 40
years at the celebrated celebrity enclave. "It's been a nice
romance," says the 5'7" Merrins, known far and wide as L'il Pro.
Merrins found his way to Bel-Air following stints at Merion,
Thunderbird and Westchester, and has single-handedly raised the
level of play at celebrity pro-ams, having taught practically
every golf-crazy leading man in Tinseltown, from Fred Astaire to
Sean Connery, George C. Scott to Clint Eastwood.

What do you get the woman who has everything? Sergio Garcia
recently presented his girlfriend, Martina Hingis, with a Buick
Rendezvous, one of the official automobiles of the PGA Tour.
Sadly, Hingis crashed her new wheels within a couple of weeks.

Contrary to published reports, Charles Howell won't be using
his part-time caddie and fellow Augusta native Bucky Moore at
the Masters. Howell has opted to go with veteran Bobby Conlan,
whose biggest win has been the 1999 U.S. Senior Open with Dave
Eichelberger. Conlan, a Carmel, Calif., native who often loops
at Cypress Point, shepherded Howell to a 12th-place finish at
this year's Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

A sleeker Dina Ammaccapane is causing a diet craze on the LPGA
tour. The 10-year veteran dropped 30 pounds in the off-season
thanks to a low-carbohydrate diet and an extensive workout plan.
The key for Ammaccapane has been abstaining from pasta, bread
and beer after 3 p.m. (That may not sound like such a big deal,
but her family owns an Italian restaurant.) Among the half-dozen
or so LPGA players to swear off carbs is Rachel Teske, who has
lost 13 pounds.

A top English amateur with an innocuous buzzcut has been barred
by his local golf association because his hair is too short.
According to the Daily Mail, former Lancashire Amateur champ
Tony Jackson, 31, received a letter from the Liverpool and
District Alliance stating that his 10 [pound] membership fee was
being returned because the LDA was "eliminating extreme
hairstyles usually associated with municipal golf rather than
the venues where we like to play." Who says golf is too stuffy?

THE POLL
VOTE AT golfonline.com

WILL Phil Mickelson ever win a major?

LAST WEEK: What's the most exciting par-3 on the PGA Tour: the
17th at the TPC at Sawgrass (Players), the 12th at Augusta
National (Masters), the 17th at Pebble Beach (National Pro-Am)
or the 16th at TPC of Scottsdale (Phoenix)?

Sawgrass 62%
Pebble 6%
Augusta 30%
Scottsdale 2%

--Based on 5,959 responses to our informal survey.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG ON THE UPSWING Diaz earned her first LPGA victory with a two-putt birdie on the final hole.COLOR PHOTO: PAUL LESTER