The Mo, the Merrier
An eventful week was a reminder that golf is a game of streaks
This is an article from the Sept. 2, 2002 issue
Momentum is the great X-factor in sports, an ephemeral,
invisible phenomenon that's impossible to quantify, except in
the black-and-white of the sports page agate. Last weekend's
baseball standings were a valentine to Uncle Mo. The Oakland A's
closed the week riding a 12-game win streak, while the New York
Mets finally snapped a 12-game slide. The A's aren't that good,
and the Mets are hardly that bad, but such streaks have more to
do with momentum than anything else.
Golf is a lot like baseball--a daily grind contested under
ever-changing conditions on varied playing fields. Results are
often best explained in terms of momentum, never more so than
last week, when a spate of tournaments saw records fall and
reputations made, and besmirched.
Craig Parry opened with a one-over 72 at the NEC Invitational but
roared to victory by playing the final 48 holes without a bogey,
thus stealing the momentum from the game's hottest player, Rich
Beem, and denying him his third consecutive win. (Beem, worn out
by the hubbub surrounding his PGA victory, still finished tied
for sixth, playing mostly on adrenaline.) Meanwhile, one of the
players who pushed Beem at the PGA, Chris Riley, built on that
breakthrough performance to snag his first Tour victory, at the
Reno-Tahoe Open, in which he defeated Jonathan Kaye in a playoff.
On the LPGA tour another promising young player, Michelle Ellis,
played like the A's for three rounds of the Betsy King Classic,
including a jag of eight birdies in 10 holes on Saturday that
pushed her 54-hole lead to two strokes. On Sunday, however, Ellis
suddenly looked like the not-so-Amazin's, playing the first 14
holes in four over. How to explain this stunning turnabout? "Golf
is such a game of streaks," Ellis said following her final-round
74, which dropped her to a tie for sixth place. "When it's going
good, the game can seem easy. When it's going bad...." Ellis's
stumble set the stage for Se Ri Pak, who rolled to victory thanks
to an effortless final-round 63, which wasn't even the most
impressive performance of the day.
Adam Scott, the sweet-swinging 22-year-old Aussie, also shot a
63--finishing eagle, birdie, eagle--as he won the Scottish PGA and
capped one of the best performances in European tour history.
Scott's 10-stroke margin of victory and 26-under finish are both
second on the tour's alltime list, not bad for a guy who missed
five cuts in six starts earlier this summer.
The mercurial nature of momentum can torment a golfer like Scott
for months, but in match play its effects are felt shot by shot.
The 36-hole final at the U.S. Amateur was defined by a dramatic
reversal of fortune late in the morning round. On Oakland Hills'
15th hole, Ricky Barnes, a senior at Arizona who plays an
outsized, freewheeling game, made an "unbelievable" up-and-down,
as he put it, from a plugged lie in a greenside bunker,
"stealing" a halve from his opponent, Hunter Mahan, a USC junior
whose game is built on precision. Barnes, still one down in the
match, then won the 16th hole when a shaken Mahan drowned two
shots in a greenside pond. Barnes won the next two holes to
stretch his lead to two up at lunch, and Mahan would never draw
Following his 2-and-1 victory, Barnes singled out that four-hole
stretch as the key to the match. "Huge momentum booster," he
BRILLIANT PUTTING will always trump strong ball striking,
especially on the Senior tour's benign courses. With his
breakthrough win in Park City, Utah, Morris Hatalsky, the
original Boss of the Moss, has usurped sweet-swinging Tom
Purtzer as the top candidate for rookie of the year.
Golf lost an original on Aug. 20 when the self-styled King of
Clubs, Robert H. Dedman, died of a heart attack at age 76.
Dedman was born with a plastic spoon in his mouth in the
backwaters of south-central Arkansas, but he amassed a fortune
by perfecting a uniform system for managing private clubs,
beginning with Dallas's Brookhaven Country Club, which he built
in 1957. Dedman's ClubCorp Inc. later expanded to public and
resort courses and now owns and operates more than 200
properties, including such shrines as Pinehurst, Firestone and
the Homestead, where Dedman often played with his friend Sam
Snead. (A former Dallas city champion, Dedman shot his age when
he was 65.) As likely to quote Kipling or Longfellow as tell an
earthy joke, Dedman devoted his final years to philanthropy--a
major medical center in Dallas and the law school at SMU are
named for him--and playing golf, including a round at the
Homestead two days before his death. Dedman's son, Bob, who
assumed control of the family business in the mid-'90s, told SI
last week, "He is now on the fairway to heaven."
Teenager Ty Tryon's rookie year has been curtailed by a series
of maladies, but his instructor, David Leadbetter, tells SI that
Tryon is healthy again and will tee it up at next week's Buy.com
European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance says that the first-day
action at the Belfry will commence with the four-ball format
(alternate shot) instead of the traditional foursomes
(better-ball), hinting the move will help ensure that all 12 of
his players see action before the Sunday singles. At the last
Ryder Cup, three Euros--Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean
Van de Velde--didn't see action until the final day, and all
were handily defeated in singles as the Americans put together
their historic comeback.
While the U.S. Amateur was playing out in Michigan, 2001 champ
Bubba Dickerson, 21, was making his European tour debut at the
Scottish PGA. Dickerson, who turned pro following this year's
Masters, will have seven sponsor's exemptions as he attempts to
earn a European tour card for next year.
Jill McGill shot a wild 66 during the first round of the Betsy
King Classic, holing a wedge for eagle and chipping in for
birdie. On the drivable par-4 8th hole, she was forced to take a
penalty for an unplayable lie, but her birdie chip clanked off
the flag, leaving a tap-in par. "My playing partners were ready
to barf all over themselves," McGill says.
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