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The Week

Nov. 25, 2002
Nov. 25, 2002

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Nov. 25, 2002

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The Week

By Tom Cunneff Edited By Alan Shipnuck

A Deadly Passion
Jerry Taylor lived, and died, playing the game he loved

This is an article from the Nov. 25, 2002 issue

March 19 was a day like any other in the life of Jerry Taylor. A
60year-old retail food sales rep from Tucson, he spent the
morning making visits to grocery stores before going to hit balls
at his home away from home, the Fred Enke Golf Course, a
desert-style muni where a round costs $26. Around 1 p.m. Taylor
walked past the clubhouse to the short-game practice area between
the driving range and the 1st hole, lugging his self-made Mad Dog
irons and Acer Series woods. Taylor found a spot about 50 yards
from a target flag and started to hit wedge shots, a daily ritual
for an 11 handicap obsessed with improving. Golf was not merely a
diversion for Taylor; it was a huge part of his life.

His wife of 36 years, Beverly, says that no matter where they
went on vacation he always took his clubs, just in case they came
across a course. He loved to sit in his tan recliner in their
modest, one-story home and watch the pros on TV, especially Phil
Mickelson. Taylor took great pride in having introduced the game
to his 18-year-old grandson, Ryan, now a plus-one handicap who has
earned a scholarship to Tucson's Pima Community College. And
Taylor loved to tinker with clubs in the small workshop he built
in the backyard.

After Taylor hit perhaps 40 wedge shots, he went to collect the
balls. As he turned to head back to his hitting area, a shot from
a high-powered rifle struck him in the back. It is believed that
Taylor died within seconds. According to the police, the killer,
or killers, then dragged his body 50 feet, robbed him of his
wallet, which contained about $30, and tried to hide his body in
some brush.

Though there were other golfers practicing within 100 yards of
where Taylor was felled, none of them saw or heard a thing. The
grisly aftermath of the crime wasn't discovered until 2 p.m.
Taylor's cap and shag bag lay near a bloodstained area, and drag
marks led to his body.

Taylor's family was devastated by the randomness of the crime.
"My dad didn't have an enemy in the world," says Taylor's
daughter, Cheryll Witz, 40. The lack of suspects and clues--no
bullet was found--had the Tucson police stumped.

Then a spate of similar acts of random violence began occurring
in October. By the time John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo were
arrested on Oct. 24, they had allegedly killed at least 13 people
and wounded seven in a cross-country crime spree. The
circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that Taylor was another
of their victims. The so-called Beltway snipers had come to
Tucson in mid-March to visit Muhammad's sister, Odessa Newell,
who lived minutes from the Fred Enke course. The following month
Malvo reportedly bragged to a Seattle friend about shooting two
golfers in Arizona, robbing them and burying their bodies in the
desert. Though police know nothing of a second dead golfer,
Malvo's friend was privy to details about Taylor's case that
weren't made public.

Though the legal system has not yet weighed in, Taylor's family
believes that the killers have been apprehended. That has brought
a measure of closure, but Taylor's perpetual smile is still
sorely missed around the Tucson golf scene. A short but straight
hitter, the 5'9", 155pound Taylor played in two golf leagues. He
could occasionally drive his buddies nuts with his deliberate
style of play, but he was a beloved playing partner because of
his easygoing demeanor and passion for the game. At some point
during every round Taylor would say, "What a great day to play
golf. Well, I guess there isn't a bad day to play golf."

With one exception: March 19.
--Tom Cunneff

TRUST ME

Harvey Penick's induction will further diminish the World Golf
Hall of Fame. The hall should be about the players, but in the
last three years a lifetime-achievement category has added
administrators, ambassadors and, now, surely the first of many
teachers. What's next? Golf writers?

O. B.

Spotted by SI in the parking lot at Tiger Stadium prior to last
Saturday's LSU-Alabama game was David Toms, looking preppy in a
button-down shirt and yellow sweater. Toms was playing catch with
some buddies, showing off a tight spiral.

Nick Faldo says he will spend the off-season tinkering with
long putters, hoping to end his lengthy slump on the greens.

Meanwhile, Faldo's former paramour, Brenna Cepelak, failed to
make it through the Futures tour Q school. Another casualty was
Jenny Chuasiriporn, reemerging after a year on the sidelines as
an assistant coach for the Virginia men's team.

You know that the Augusta National membership controversy is
spiraling out of control when The New York Times weighs in with
an editorial. Monday's edition of the Gray Lady zinged chairman
Hootie Johnson as "the poster boy for a particularly regressive
branch of the golfing set" and went on to implore prominent
members to resign in protest, CBS to rethink its decision to
televise the event and Woods to boycott next year's tournament.

Boo Weekley, last year's PGA Tour Q School darling, flunked out
in the second stage this time around.

Note to the PGA of America: We like Hal Sutton and all, but
Arnold Palmer is now 5--0 as a U.S. team captain, having swept
two Ryder Cups (1963 and '75), one Presidents Cup ('96) and the
last two Warburgs.

The PGA Tour made official last week what has long been
rumored: Deutsche Bank will sponsor the new U.S. Championship
at the TPC of Boston, with a Monday finish on Labor Day. All
charitable proceeds will benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation.
The latest scuttlebutt is that in 2005 the tournament will move
to Woods's native Southern California.

The city of Seaside, Calif., has agreed in principle with the
PGA Tour to license Bayonet and its sister course, Black Horse,
under the Tournament Players Club brand. A twisty 7,116 yards
made claustrophobic by cypress trees, Bayonet is the toughest
course on the Monterey Peninsula, with a course rating (75.6)
that is higher than Pebble Beach's (73.8) or Spyglass Hill's
(75.3). Bayonet is already being discussed as a potential site
for the Tour Championship, a bid that will be strengthened if a
proposed 300-plus-room luxury hotel gets built on land that
also used to be part of Fort Ord before the U.S. Army base was
closed in 1996.

THE POLL
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM

THIS WEEK: Whose side are you on, Martha Burk's or Hootie
Johnson's?

LAST POLL: Which is the story of the year: Tiger Woods's pursuit
of the Grand Slam, the resolution of the hot driver issue, Annika
Sorenstam's 10 wins, the Augusta National membership controversy
or Europe's comeback victory at the Ryder Cup?

Woods ....34% Drivers ....2% Sorenstam ....18%

Augusta ....16% Ryder Cup ....30%

--Based on 4,723 responses to our informal survey.

COLOR PHOTO: JAMES S. WOODS/ARIZONA DAILY STAR (TOP) SAD SEARCH The shooting of Taylor (inset) was a mystery, but revelations about Malvo and Muhammad may help solve it.COLOR PHOTO: TAYLOR FAMILY, LAS VEGASSUN, AP (TAYLOR) [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: ARIZONA DAILY STAR [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES (LEFT) HAPPIER TIMES Cepelak and Faldo each face a long winter.