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Funny Money
Alan Shipnuck
November 13, 1995
The official season is finally over, but for a fortunate few the real fun has just begun
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November 13, 1995

Funny Money

The official season is finally over, but for a fortunate few the real fun has just begun

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And what goes best with wine? Cheese, of course, and the World Open offered up plenty of that. Like the golf course, the Legends of Chateau Elan. Sarazen and fellow golf greats Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth each designed six holes "in the spirit" of their favorites from other courses. As such, the Legends has more knockoffs than those guys hawking Gucci handbags on New York City street corners.

The field was also bathed in a Velveeta glow. Three of the top names—Lee Janzen (15th place), Craig Stadler (tie for eighth) and Fuzzy Zoeller (tie for 13th)—didn't even win tournaments to get here. They were special Squire's Selections. If you're going to trumpet it as the World Open, there shouldn't be any free passes.

When Colin Montgomerie faxed in a letter to the attendance office Monday morning canceling his trip, that reduced the 92-man field to just three blue-chippers: Els, Janzen and John Daly. There were another two dozen or so guys who could play, and the rest were just window dressing.

Here's how Gary Marks of London describes his competition at the '94 Polish Open: "It was a decent field, about 50 players." Pause. "Only half of them were pros, the rest weekend players." Pause. "In all honesty, it was a pretty weak field. There were a half-dozen decent players."

Wayne Bradley of South Africa was looking forward to defending his '94 Ivory Coast title, but the tournament went belly-up this year. Australian Steve Conran spent most of the World Open explaining what and where Vanuatu (pronounced van-wah-TOO) is. "If this is Australia," says the '93 champ, holding up his right fist, "and this is Fiji," he adds, holding up his left fist, "then this is Vanuatu," he says, motioning with his chin to what would be a chain of tiny islands in between.

Such a story is indicative of what is neat about the World Open. It's not the fat-cat stars playing for Porsche money. Rather, it's the randoms and the wannabes savoring their first brush with the big time.

Last year Urban Legat, the '93 Slovenian champ, came to the Sarazen and shot 88-84-88-92, finishing 79 shots behind Els. Replaying memories of that trip, he gets tears in his eyes. Tears of joy. It was his first visit to the U.S. After the tournament he road-tripped to the Grand Canyon. "Un-bee-lievable," he says in his choppy but charming English. Still, Legat has an athlete's pride, and he almost didn't return this year. The chance to see the States again swayed him, and he shot 80-82 to partially redeem Slovenian golf.

Most players were floored by the red-carpet treatment, which included Volvo courtesy cars, daily excursions for the family and free long-distance phone calls. There was no preferential treatment on the golf course. Rattled by the large crowds and starstruck by the competition, many of the fringe players crashed and burned.

"Not everyone can play well," says Panoz, the founder, "but these players came here and improved their golf knowledge, and that they'll take home with them."

Gee, there's nothing silly about that. In fact it sounds rather noble.

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