There's nothing like putting. Is it an art? A science? A leading cause of divorce? Or is it "the great equalizer," which is what PGA Tour veteran Payne Stewart called it last week at the first Compaq World Putting Championship in Orlando. That was after getting, by his description, his "butt kicked for nine holes" by a 4'7", 75-pound 13-year-old who was not even wearing knickers. Whatever, this two-day, 72-hole, nothin'-but-puttin' event at Walt Disney World's Bonnet Creek Golf Club was a gloriously democratic affair.
The winner was Len Mattiace, a 29-year-old PGA Tour player whose final-day 73, one over par for 36 holes, earned him $250,000 and the right to call himself "the world's best putter." He isn't, of course. The format (three games, the hardest of which required a player who had missed a putt to move the ball two club lengths farther from the hole than where it stopped) had little to do with standing on the 72nd green of the U.S. Open needing to two-putt from 50 feet to win. But the competition was a test of nerves and touch for the 163 Orlando finalists, among them 24 PGA, 17 LPGA and 10 Senior tour players. Most of the rest were rank-and-file amateurs who had emerged from the thousands who had competed in qualifying rounds at some 1,200 clubs across the country.
Everyone putted the same holes from the same distances, with no handicaps. And no windmills. First-round exits included Mike (Ace Machine) Brown, 27, the national Putt-Putt champ, and Shirley Stephens, a 61-year-old grandmother from Great Falls, Mont. The younger generation, however, was well represented by the 13-year-old, Derek Penman of Salt Lake City, who beat LPGA veteran Caroline Keggi in sudden death to advance to the second round, in which he was paired with Stewart. The unflappable Derek beat Stewart 18-20 for nine holes of the 27-hole round before Stewart rallied to outputt Derek 62-73 and save face. "Nah, I wasn't nervous," said Derek afterward. "I guess he has a step on me, for now."
Nervous doesn't begin to describe the state of LPGA player Jan Stephenson. On the event's last hole, playing with Tom Kite, Stephenson took a humiliating 13 on an undulating, 39-foot layout. The crowd around the green was hushed and other competitors gawked in horror when Stephenson, in tears, dropped a sidehill six-footer for the baker's dozen.
Kite didn't fare much better, with an 8. "I've only suffered like this once before in golf, when I blew a tournament," said Stephenson, still crying and wrapped in her boyfriend's arms. "That was the only time I've ever gotten drunk. I think I might get drunk again."
Putting will do that to you.
The 600 fifth- and sixth-graders at Amber Terrace School in DeSoto, Texas, were thrilled when Emmitt Smith showed up at an assembly last week. Smith was the guest of Mark Krasinski, 10, who had won the running back's companionship in a take-a-player-to-school contest. And the school certainly did everything to make the Cowboy feel at home. He was introduced to the assembly by guidance counselor Chanda Emmitte and by principal Rod Smith.
The Sound, the Fury
The racist outburst on Nov. 30 by former Mississippi state senator Brad Lott would have sent shock waves regardless of where it had occurred or who had screamed the words. That the tirade came from a prominent Mississippian during an Ole Miss football game at the Oxford campus made the incident all the more disturbing.
With 45 seconds left in Mississippi State's 17-0 win over Mississippi, Lott, 33, who served in the legislature from 1992 until last January, descended from the stands to a fence 20 yards from the field. For nearly a minute he screamed furiously at State noseguard Eric Dotson, cursing him and threatening to "get" him. He repeatedly called Dotson "nigger."