Do the math.
They are the Masters. You are the South Carolina Classic.
They've got Phil Mickelson. You've got Phil Tataurangi.
They've got Magnolia Lane. You've got the road beside the Citgo.
They've got a tradition of excellence. You've got...Phil Tataurangi.
No wonder Dick Baker, the tournament director of the Nike South Carolina Classic, felt somewhat dyspeptic last week about the fact that his golf tournament occupied the same dates on the calendar as the Masters. After all, it's no coincidence that neither the Senior PGA Tour nor the LPGA tour dared to schedule an event last week. So what exactly was the Nike tour thinking when it rescheduled its annual stop in Florence, S.C., just 130 miles from Augusta National, from May to Masters week? "My initial reaction to the plan was a major case of heartburn," Baker admits. "Let's just say we weren't worried about stealing away thunder from the Masters. Some people were afraid we might throw a party and nobody would show up."
The South Carolina Classic's most obvious concern was that the entire golf world would be overcome by the spell that briefly befuddled Tim Simpson. A native of Atlanta, Simpson found himself driving east on I-20 last Wednesday afternoon when a strong gravitational pull grabbed him. "I got near Augusta National, and all of a sudden my Suburban wanted to exit right there at Washington Road," said Simpson, one of 21 former Masters invitees in the Nike field. "It was a weird feeling to stay in the left lane and keep on driving to play in the South Carolina Classic."
The Classic's organizers must have questioned their sense as well when, on the day the tournament started, there wasn't a single mention of their event in The State, South Carolina's largest newspaper. (There were, however, three full stories on the Masters.) "I guess it's like the Doobie Brothers opening for the Beatles," said Greg Twiggs, a Masters participant in '89 who finished tied for 25th in Florence. "This tournament is a good event, but it pales in the face of history."
In an attempt to attract a gallery—any gallery—to the Country Club of South Carolina, the Classic promised up-to-the-minute Masters updates on the course's five electronic leader boards. Tee times in the Classic concluded before network coverage of the Masters began, and fans were encouraged to stay at the club and watch the Masters on four big-screen televisions in a courtesy tent behind the clubhouse or on monitors in each of the 10 corporate boxes around the 18th green.
For their part most of the Nike players feigned ambivalence toward "the other tournament," at least until 15 of them were spotted in a local tavern Thursday evening watching a replay of Greg Norman's opening-round 63. Nike tour member Bob Wolcott actually attended the Wednesday practice round at Augusta, then drove to Florence at 4:30 the next morning just in case an alternate spot opened up in the Classic. When he learned at 2:30 p.m. that he was shut out, Wolcott returned to the Masters to watch the end of the first round. "We'd be lying if we said the Masters doesn't occupy the thoughts of everybody around here," said Jerry Foltz, the winner of the '95 Classic who missed the cut this year. "Let's face it: I'm 33 years old, and I still stand over a 12-footer on the practice green just like a little kid pretending that it's a putt to win the Masters."