Mark Brooks was not the only big winner last week. Valhalla Golf Club and Louisville made out pretty well, too. PGA of America officials confirmed that the PGA Championship will return to Valhalla in 2000. The 10-year-old course will follow Augusta National (the Masters), Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews (British Open) on the Grand Slam rotation that year. Clearly the PGA brass is more concerned with the bottom line than with a prestige address for the fourth major of the new millennium. "It's pretty hard to say this is a place you wouldn't want to come back to," says Jim Awtrey, the association's CEO. "The minimum is a four-year rotation. We have an opening in the year 2000."
What Valhalla lacked in tradition it made up in numbers and goodwill. Before counting income from concessions and souvenirs, the PGA netted $6 million last week, which more than justifies a second $2 million payment due Valhalla founder Dwight Gahm. That will increase the PGA's stake from 25% to 50% of the club. Louisville proved to be the kind of Middle America market that has embraced the championship in the past. The PGA hit home runs from 1991 to '94, when the event was held at Crooked Stick (Indianapolis), Bellerive (St. Louis), Inverness (Toledo) and Southern Hills (Tulsa), but has struck out in larger cities, particularly those that already host a PGA Tour event. Last year the PGA at Riviera in Los Angeles was a bust, and next year's championship, at Winged Foot outside New York City, might also be poorly attended. (Half the tickets remain unsold, while Valhalla sold out a full year before the championship.) "We didn't have this many people for the whole tournament in L.A.," said Payne Stewart during Tuesday's practice round. "They took it for granted. It shows that the PGA needs to go into new markets."
The PGA will try another new city in 1998, when the championship will be played at Sahalee Golf Club in Redmond, Wash. In '99 the event returns to a traditional site, Medinah outside Chicago. Then it's back to Valhalla, where the PGA was welcomed as if it were the Kentucky Derby. "I've never seen so many people so happy at a golf tournament," Awtrey said.
Not everyone was ecstatic. In the locker room many players were lukewarm about the prospect of the PGA and perhaps the Ryder Cup, another PGA of America property, returning to the Jack Nicklaus-designed course on a regular basis. "I don't want to be critical, because it's an O.K. course," said Paul Azinger. "It's definitely good enough to host a Tour event. But I'm not sure about a major championship unless they make some changes."
Sometimes in golf all you need is a break, but defending U.S. Amateur champion Kelli Kuehne didn't think the stress fracture she suffered in her right foot last fall was going to do anything for her game. Stuck in a walking cast for 7½ weeks and under strict orders to stay off the golf course, Kuehne, a practice-aholic sophomore at Texas, decided to concentrate on the only phase of the game that does not require two sturdy legs: putting. In lieu of hitting hundreds of balls, Kuehne spent hour upon hour stroking putts. In December, after the foot had healed and she was allowed back on the course, Kuehne continued to devote a significant amount of practice time to putting—she works on her stroke four hours a day, four days a week—and that extra effort was rewarded handsomely last week during the U.S. Women's Amateur at Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb.
Kuehne began her 36-hole championship match against long-hitting Marisa Baena, the NCAA champ from Arizona, by running in birdie putts of 28 and eight feet on two of the first four holes. Then, after Baena fought back to square the match, Kuehne one-putted five straight greens to go 3 up heading into the final 18. Baena, a native of Pereira, Colombia, who at 5'4" and 116 pounds amazed spectators all week with drives of up to 300 yards, sliced the lead to one after 34 holes, but when her eight-iron tee shot at the par-3 35th failed to clear a water hazard, she conceded the match.
Kuehne, 19, became the 11th woman to win consecutive Amateurs and the youngest to repeat since Beatrix Hoyt, starting at age 16, won back-to-back-to-back in 1896-98. The strong-willed Kuehne, who has lost just one match, to Janice Moodie earlier this summer in the Curtis Cup, since last year's Amateur, had a simple game plan last week: beat Baena. "Everyone said Marisa is the best college player, but I felt the championship was mine to win or lose," Kuehne said.
And in the end, with all the work she had put in on the little shots, there was no reason to believe she would come up short.