A Warm and Fuzzy Win
The people's choice, Fuzzy Zoeller, overcame a tough course and
a long victory drought to take the Senior PGA
The monster lives. Arnold Palmer christened Firestone's feared
par-5 16th hole the Monster after he drowned a shot in the pond
and took an 8 there in 1960, ruining his chances of winning the
PGA Championship. Forty-two years later Palmer returned to Akron
for the 63rd Senior PGA Championship, and the King made another
8 at the 16th. "That hole has been haunting me for 45 years," a
chagrined Palmer said afterward.
At 635 yards the 16th is as fearsome as ever, but this time
around all 18 holes of Firestone's South course provided a
monstrous challenge, forcing the world's best Seniors to reach
for the nearest walker. Fuzzy Zoeller, the new Senior PGA
champion, wasn't simply the only player to break par for 72
holes on this beast--finishing at a modest two under--he was
also the last man standing. How tough was Firestone? Even par
was good enough for second place, and five over got you a tie
for 10th. "This felt more like the U.S. Open than a Senior
major," said Larry Nelson, who bogeyed four of the last six
holes to finish in a tie for sixth.
The brutal conditions and large and enthusiastic galleries (what
else is there to do in Akron besides rotate your tires?) created
a major championship atmosphere. That brought out the best in
Zoeller, the 1984 U.S. Open champ, whose play has been
uninspired for most of his rookie year on the Senior tour. But
Zoeller was in the thick of things from the start as he fired a
first-round 69, and the fans, still loyal despite his infamous
comments at the 1997 Masters, rallied in an effort to spur him
to his first Senior win. "We had some decent crowds following
us, and all you heard was, 'Go, Fuzzy!'" said Bobby Wadkins,
Zoeller's final-round playing partner, who tied Hale Irwin for
second, two strokes back. "Finally, on 15, Fuzzy's wife
hollered, 'Go, Bobby!' It was fun to see people get behind the
Senior tour and root for him. This is what the tour needs."
The carefree Zoeller was still bantering with fans on the 72nd
tee, even though he was clinging to a two-shot lead, and
mid-fairway he took time out to autograph a handful of balls for
his caddie to distribute to some spectators. Zoeller has
embraced the Senior tour's fan-friendly initiatives even as he
has struggled this year--coming into the Senior PGA, he had one
second but no finish better than 15th in 11 other starts. "It
was his putting," said caddie Eric Schwarz. "Everyone who's seen
him swing this year has been saying, Fuzzy's going to win soon,
it's only a matter of time."
It had been 16 years since his last victory, the 1986
Anheuser-Busch Classic, but some quality time with his daughter
Gretchen may have sparked this comeback. She'll enter the
College of Charleston on a golf scholarship this fall, and Dad
spent the week before the Senior PGA practicing with her at
Covered Bridge Golf Club, a course Zoeller designed (and owns)
in Sellersburg, Ind., 10 miles from his home in New Albany. "I
guess that practicing stuff really pays off," Zoeller joked on
Zoeller interrupted his winner's press conference to call the
Covered Bridge clubhouse and announce that he was buying drinks
there for the next hour. "This could really hurt me, you know,"
Zoeller said of a bar bill he feared would be a real monster.
--Gary Van Sickle
Jack Nicklaus has played his last Masters. After withdrawing
from the Senior PGA, he said he's unsure about Augusta in 2003,
but how many 62-year-old backs get better with time? Nicklaus is
too stoic to hobble around a brutal course just for a
There was a rare Lauri Merten sighting last week at the LPGA
Championship. Sporting bleached-blonde tresses, Merten--the 1993
U.S. Women's Open champ who hasn't played in an LPGA event since
1997--walked the back nine on Thursday, following her good
friend Laurie Rinker-Graham. "It was nice seeing some old
friends," Merten, 41, told SI, "but I don't miss it one iota."
Merten says she walked away from the game because of burnout;
undoubtedly another factor was the unwanted attention
surrounding the murder conviction of her brother-in-law, Thomas
Capano, in 1996. (Capano remains on death row; Merten is still
married to his brother, Lewis, a Delaware real estate magnate.)
Merten, who claims to have played only one round of golf in
2002, has become an avid painter, saying, "It satisfies the need
for creativity I used to get playing out of the trees."
Don't count Scott Hoch among the proponents of LASIK surgery.
Hoch has undergone the procedure three times in the past 18
months and has been left with double vision and halos as a
result. Now experimenting with various contact lenses to
eliminate the trouble, Hoch, 46, says he's "totally optimistic"
that he'll get his career back on track soon. "I don't see any
problems," he says with typical gallows humor.
LPGA rookie Natalie Gulbis lost a caddie at the LPGA
Championship thanks to the continued meddling of her father,
John. During a practice round Natalie and her bagman, Eric Pohl,
a Sacramento club pro who had been on the job for six weeks,
were talking strategy on the tee of the par-4 12th hole when
John Gulbis wondered aloud from outside the ropes what the
yardage was to carry a distant fairway bunker, which most
competitors choose to play around. Pohl initially ignored the
question but snapped when Gulbis repeated it twice more. "If you
want to know the yardage, then buy your own yardage book," Pohl
said before removing his green bib and storming off the course.
Local caddie Tom Freeland, who had been following the Gulbis
group as a fan, offered his services and helped guide Natalie to
15th place, her second-best finish of the season.
While competing at the NFL Golf Classic two weeks ago in
Clifton, N.J., Tom Kite decided to take a road trip to Bethpage
for a sneak peek at the course, but he never made it. After
taking nearly two hours to get across the traffic-snarled
Verrazano Bridge, which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn,
Kite turned around and headed back to New Jersey. The worst
part? "It cost me $17 in tolls," he says.
Despite claims to the contrary, A.W. Tillinghast should remain
the Black's architect of record Tillie's plaque at Bethpage
Just who did coax the Black course from the stunning Bethpage
State Park landscape? History tells us it was Golden Age
designer A.W. Tillinghast, but retired ad man Joe Burbeck has
come forward to demand that his father, Joseph H. Burbeck, be
given the credit.
There's never been any doubt that Burbeck, as park
superintendent from 1929 to '64, was instrumental in carrying
out master builder Robert Moses's plan for a multicourse complex
at Bethpage. That Burbeck conferred with Tillie and oversaw the
construction, which was completed in '35, is a given. But his
71-year-old son wants him crowned with architectural laurels too.
Unfortunately there are no plans or papers to support the son's
claim, only his boyhood memories. Still, he cites the following
evidence: that Tillie's title at Bethpage was consultant, not
architect; that a 1959 park history says the Black was "designed
and constructed under [Burbeck's] direction"; and that Tillie
himself said, in a PGA Magazine article published in '37, "it
was Burbeck's idea" to develop the Black in the mold of a public
All true, says architect Rees Jones, who oversaw the renovation
of Bethpage Black and several other Tillinghast courses. Just
not true enough.
"An untrained eye could not have created such a magnificent
layout," says Jones, who maintains that Burbeck implemented
Tillinghast's ideas--and probably even added to them--but that
the design was Tillie's. Jones says it was not unusual for
architects to be called consultants during the Depression. And,
whatever Tillinghast's title, he made at least 15 visits to
Bethpage, more than most architects of that era would have when
designing a course. No blueprints? "Tillinghast was a field
designer, doodling on sketch pads," says Jones. "That's why I
don't think they can find formal plans."
David Catalano, the current park director, agrees with Jones. "A
sad mistake is being made," he says, citing an earlier park
history, from 1934, that credits Tillinghast as the planner and
Finally, there's the non-smoking gun of Joseph H. Burbeck
himself. "I know of no instance or of any written document in
which he ever claimed to be the architect," says Catalano. "If
he had designed the Black, wouldn't he have been asked to design
other courses too?" --Jeff Silverman
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: As a U.S. Open venue, is Bethpage Black too hard, too
easy or just right?
LAST WEEK: Would you sleep in your car to play the Black?
--Based on 1,642 responses to our informal survey.