There was no escaping golf in 1998. Not on television, not even on Ally McBeal. "There's more to life than being a lawyer," Calista Flockhart's quirky title character (right) philosophizes in one episode, "and I don't mean golf." She apparently doesn't mean between-meal snacks, either.
There was also no escape at the movies. In Armageddon, the thriller in which the Earth is on a collision course with a killer asteroid, Bruce Willis pounds drives (lefthanded) from a grass mat on an offshore oil rig, peppering a circling ship of Greenpeace protesters. When a shot clangs off the deck, one cowering tree-hugger whines, "Hey, that was close!" as Willis smugly chuckles. That scene was an omen. A real meteorite just missed hitting a maintenance man playing a round at Doon Valley Golf Club in Kitchener, Ont. Scientists were so thrilled by the find that they rewarded the man with a season's pass to a nearby course. Just one problem, complained the golfer, who had also been struck by lightning while playing: "I'm having trouble getting someone to join me."
Golf could be found in the international news too—during a food shortage in Indonesia hungry farmers armed with hoes and axes chased golfers off a green and turned the putting surface into a vegetable garden—and on the business pages, where it was reported that Microsoft's Bill Gates made the ultimate faux pas, ordering up a membership to Augusta National as if he were asking for a cheeseburger. Also, after Gates and singer Celine Dion appeared in Callaway ads, the club-maker's stock sank faster than you-know-what, Leonardo.
Other sports could not escape golf's long reach, either. In some circles the length of the NBA lockout is being measured by the number of rounds played by Michael Jordan. Don't, however, ask Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren what he thinks about golf. Holmgren declared the game off-limits for the golf-happy Packers before the '97 Super Bowl, which they won easily. Before this year's Super Bowl, Holmgren relented and okayed hitting practice balls. Oh, well, all golfers know what it's like to leave their game on the range.
Best Senior moment. Gay Brewer's first-round 72 in tough conditions at the Masters. "I thought they had put his age on the scoreboard. I was waiting for HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GAY," said Steve Elkington. Unrelated fact: Golf will be included in the 2002 Gay Games.
Most original excuse. Phil Mickelson, battling a cold, explaining a mediocre round, "I may have overdone it with the Sudafed."
Notable cameo. Payne Stewart's appearance in an episode of Home Improvement. Unrelated fact: Stewart later put his Orlando mansion, featuring six bedrooms, an elevator and an indoor putting green, up for sale for $7.5 million.
Worst defense. Miguel Angel Martin at the Heineken Classic. Martin, who made a fuss when he was dropped from the '97 European Ryder Cup team, didn't show up for me Classic, which he had won the year before. "He's no great loss," said tournament manager Rod Leembruggen. "He's won only twice in 18 years, and that's a long time between drinks."
Best anecdote. A tale from Nick Price: An unidentified British caddie arrived in Australia for a tournament, but when an immigration official asked if he had a criminal record, the caddie replied, "I didn't know I still needed one to get in." Footnote: The caddie was denied entry.