When Tiger's Away, The Kids Will Play With you-know-who not around for the first time in six years, a rookie foursome at the Grand Slam showed that golfers really can let their hair down

December 15, 2003

There was trouble in paradise. Shortly after 11 p.m. last Friday,
security guards patrolling the lush grounds of the Hyatt Regency
Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa, Hawaii, heard voices emanating from
the waterslide. As every child who has ever stayed at the resort
well knows, the serpentine slide--with its yelp-inducing,
150-foot drop--closes at 5 p.m. Directing the beam of his
flashlight at the transgressor, the guard asked, "Are you a guest
of the hotel?" ¶ "I am," said the freckled man in swim trunks
standing sheepishly at the mouth of the slide. The inquisition
went on. What was his name? His room number? Finally, Shaun
Micheel offered this--not so much to brag as to get off the
hook: "I'm the 2003 PGA champion."

You remember Micheel, whose seven-iron to within a matchstick of
the cup on the final hole of the PGA Championship last August
clinched his victory and earned him a ticket to Kauai for last
week's PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which pits the winners of the
year's four majors against one another in a two-day, 36-hole,
made-for-TV event. Whether he was poaching nocturnal runs on that
world-class waterslide, seeking out every mud puddle on the
island on a rented ATV or ordering, as he puts it, "a big drink
with an umbrella in it," Micheel set the tone for this year's
Grand Slam. While the golf has been better in previous
years--U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk beat Masters champ Mike Weir by
eight strokes, Micheel by 10 and British Open winner Ben Curtis
by 11--it's unlikely that any quartet has had as much fun.

The tournament needed that, quite frankly. It needed Weir to show
up with a dozen or so of his best friends, a motley crew that
called itself the Posse and shut down the hotel bar most nights.
It needed Curtis to bring his entire family from Ohio, including
his wife of three months, Candace, who kept her good spirits
despite vomiting prodigiously during a catamaran ride early in
the week. It needed Curtis's caddie, a friendly Brit named Andy
Sutton, to note following the first round that he was "sweating
like a glassblower's arse." The Grand Slam needed these
characters because, despite a generous purse ($1 million) and a
gorgeous venue--the Poipu Bay Golf Course, perched on red cliffs
over the Pacific--it had become a trifle stale over the last few
years.

Visitors to the event's pressroom last week were greeted by a row
of five poster-sized photographs, all variations on a theme.
There was Tiger Woods, crouching to the left of the Grand Slam's
crystal trophy in 1998. There was Tiger on one knee behind the
trophy in '99 and 2000. There was Woods in a catcher's squat
behind the trophy in '01 and '02.

Last week, for the first time in six years, Kauai was a
Tiger-free zone, and what the Grand Slam lost in marquee value it
gained in wide-eyed wonderment. There was Candace, walking into
hers and Ben's opulent suite for the first time and asking, "Is
all this for us?" Among the boatload of gifts bestowed upon the
contestants at this most swag-intensive of tournaments was a set
of personalized stationary, about which Candace asked, "Do we get
to keep this?"

"Actually, no," deadpanned PGA of America spokesman Julius Mason.
"It's for the next Ben Curtis who checks into the resort."

The order in which the four players finished in Kauai
corresponded with the descending plausibility of their major
victories. In an SI poll conducted before his win at Olympia
Fields, Furyk's peers had voted him, out of all the players who
had never won a major, the most likely to do so. (As the owner of
a vacation home in Maui and the winner of three previous
tournaments in Hawaii, he was also the heavy favorite to come
away with the $400,000 first prize at Kauai.) Weir's green jacket
had been only a slightly larger surprise. The triumphs of Curtis
and Micheel, on the other hand, might fairly be described as
miraculous, with the Ohioan--BEN WHO?, as he was dubbed by the
British tabloids--requiring the greater measure of divine
intervention. For the first time in the 21-year history of the
Grand Slam of Golf, all the contestants were first-time major
winners. The fact that not all of them have grown entirely
accustomed to their new roles as golfing immortals lent the '03
Slam much of its charm. It was refreshing to look on, for
instance, as Micheel struggled with his earpiece before the
kickoff press conference last Thursday morning.

"I'm not really sure how this thing goes on," he said.

"It's easier if you put it in your right ear," suggested a
techie.

"Wow! You can hear other people talking," said Micheel, once the
earpiece was in place. "That's really distracting."

As the gimlet-eyed Weir, the craggy Furyk, the stolid Curtis and
the mischievous Micheel took their places at the dais with Tiger
nowhere in sight, the scene called to mind Mount Rushmore minus
George Washington. This much was certain: The absence of Woods
made parking much easier--galleries were noticeably smaller--and
it improved attendance at the champions dinner, hosted by the PGA
of America. Following a superb repast, the players customarily
take turns being interviewed by the disarming and avuncular Jim
Huber of TNT. It's a charming ritual, and one that Woods blew off
last year.

Asked at Thursday's press conference if he was working on his
game as assiduously as he might in, say, February or March, Furyk
replied, "Absolutely not. We all have families to attend to in
the off-season. It's nice to get away from golf a little bit."
Nevertheless, as dusk approached the previous afternoon--on a day
when Weir went surfing, Micheel ATVing and Curtis kayaking--Furyk
could be seen, under a tent, chipping onto a practice putting
green in a driving rainstorm.

While it might have been more of a business trip for Furyk than
it was for his rivals, this wasn't necessarily by design. With
his wife, Tabitha, due to deliver their second child any day, he
arrived late and left early--only a few hours after Saturday's
final round. "[Weir] brought 12 of his buddies, Shaun's been out
playing in the mud," said Furyk, "but for me this week is going
to be a little more low-key."

He was anything but a stick in the mud. It was a testament to the
modesty and reticence of the other three pros that Furyk emerged
as the most gregarious of the foursome. On the practice tee
before Thursday's pro-am, the players submitted to a Q&A with
TNT's on-course reporter, Billy Kratzert, who worked himself into
an oratorical lather while discussing Furyk's unique swing. "Sure
he could've changed," Kratzert informed the crowd, "but his only
instructor has been his father, Mike."

When Kratzert finished, Furyk said, without looking up from the
ball he was addressing, "I'm getting a little tear in my eye."
The crowd cracked up.

On Friday, Furyk lapped the field with a first-round 67, as his
rivals proved incapable of generating either zippy badinage or a
charge. It was left to the Posse to animate the proceedings.
Because the Weirs--Mike and his wife, Bricia, and their two young
children--will be traveling to Hawaii for next month's Mercedes
Championships, it didn't make sense for the whole gang to make
the long trip from their home in Utah last week. Instead, Weir
decided, he would surround himself with his mates. They came from
Canada, Weir's native land, and from Utah, where he attended BYU
on a golf scholarship, and they celebrated their friend's success
by turning the week into a prolonged bacchanalia.

Things got off to a rough start. A day of deep-sea fishing was
cut short when half the Posse suffered from seasickness--none so
severely as poor Dave (Magoo) McKinlay, who pleaded with his
friends, when he wasn't retching over the rail, to throw him
overboard. "Just feed me to the tiger sharks," he moaned.

Locating the Posse was easy on Friday. All one needed to do was
spot the Ben Wallace Afro wig sported by Jeff Kraemer (who also
donned for the occasion his barn-red Mario Lemieux Canadian
Olympic hockey jersey) or the glistening bald pate of the
strapping Rob Roxborough, a club pro from Toronto who seemed to
have met an inordinate number of voluptuous women in the gallery
and was frequently overheard asking if anyone needed "an adult
beverage."

Ask the guys in the Grand Slam how winning a major has changed
them, and they'll tell you it hasn't. My lifestyle may have
changed, they'll say, but I'm still the same guy.

Not Micheel. "I've definitely changed," he says. "I'm having more
fun." This is a guy who earned his Tour card in 1993, lost it,
then couldn't get it back until '96. He was on Tour for four
years without winning a tournament of any kind before his life
changed with that one swing of his seven-iron last summer. Last
month his wife, Stephanie, bore their first child, a boy named
Dade Palmer. As nice as the $1.08 million check for winning the
PGA was, the five-year Tour exemption that came with it was just
as valuable to Micheel. "Knowing that I'll be able to do my job,
that I'm going to be here for a while--that makes a big
difference," he says.

Following his pro-am round, Micheel rushed back to the hotel,
asking for directions to Ilima Garden, where his sister, Shannon,
was marrying Michael Kreskow at 5 p.m. Still clad in his
Cleveland Golf shirt and Cleveland Golf baseball cap, Shaun got
to the ceremony with 10 minutes to spare. Later that evening
certain members of the wedding party were observed taking post-5
p.m. runs on the waterslide.

Two days later, having birdied four of the last six holes to
overtake Curtis for third place, Micheel had the temerity to face
the media and say, with a straight face, "On the back nine today,
I finally started to have some fun."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER FAB FOUR The quartet of (from left) Micheel, Furyk, Weir and Curtis got down and dirty during a week of fun in the sun. COLOR PHOTO: JOELLE WIGGINS (WEIR) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER BUSINESS AND PLEASURE While the Curtises went kayaking, Furyk charmed the locals and kept his eyes on the prize. COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (BOTTOM) [See caption above]

What the event lost in marquee value it gained in WIDE-EYED
wonderment.

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)