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When Tiger's Away, THE KIDS WILL PLAY
Austin Murphy
December 15, 2003
With you-know-who not around for the first time in six years, a rookie foursome at the Grand Slam showed that golfers really can let their hair down
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December 15, 2003

When Tiger's Away, The Kids Will Play

With you-know-who not around for the first time in six years, a rookie foursome at the Grand Slam showed that golfers really can let their hair down

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There was trouble in paradise. Shortly after 11 p.m. last Friday, security guards patrolling the lush grounds of the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa, Hawaii, heard voices emanating from the waterslide. As every child who has ever stayed at the resort well knows, the serpentine slide—with its yelp-inducing, 150-foot drop—closes at 5 p.m. Directing the beam of his flashlight at the transgressor, the guard asked, "Are you a guest of the hotel?" � "I am," said the freckled man in swim trunks standing sheepishly at the mouth of the slide. The inquisition went on. What was his name? His room number? Finally, Shaun Micheel offered this—not so much to brag as to get off the hook: "I'm the 2003 PGA champion."

You remember Micheel, whose seven-iron to within a matchstick of the cup on the final hole of the PGA Championship last August clinched his victory and earned him a ticket to Kauai for last week's PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which pits the winners of the year's four majors against one another in a two-day, 36-hole, made-for-TV event. Whether he was poaching nocturnal runs on that world-class waterslide, seeking out every mud puddle on the island on a rented ATV or ordering, as he puts it, "a big drink with an umbrella in it," Micheel set the tone for this year's Grand Slam. While the golf has been better in previous years—U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk beat Masters champ Mike Weir by eight strokes, Micheel by 10 and British Open winner Ben Curtis by 11—it's unlikely that any quartet has had as much fun.

The tournament needed that, quite frankly. It needed Weir to show up with a dozen or so of his best friends, a motley crew that called itself the Posse and shut down the hotel bar most nights. It needed Curtis to bring his entire family from Ohio, including his wife of three months, Candace, who kept her good spirits despite vomiting prodigiously during a catamaran ride early in the week. It needed Curtis's caddie, a friendly Brit named Andy Sutton, to note following the first round that he was "sweating like a glassblower's arse." The Grand Slam needed these characters because, despite a generous purse ($1 million) and a gorgeous venue—the Poipu Bay Golf Course, perched on red cliffs over the Pacific—it had become a trifle stale over the last few years.

Visitors to the event's pressroom last week were greeted by a row of five poster-sized photographs, all variations on a theme. There was Tiger Woods, crouching to the left of the Grand Slam's crystal trophy in 1998. There was Tiger on one knee behind the trophy in '99 and 2000. There was Woods in a catcher's squat behind the trophy in '01 and '02.

Last week, for the first time in six years, Kauai was a Tiger-free zone, and what the Grand Slam lost in marquee value it gained in wide-eyed wonderment. There was Candace, walking into hers and Ben's opulent suite for the first time and asking, "Is all this for us?" Among the boatload of gifts bestowed upon the contestants at this most swag-intensive of tournaments was a set of personalized stationary, about which Candace asked, "Do we get to keep this?"

"Actually, no," deadpanned PGA of America spokesman Julius Mason. "It's for the next Ben Curtis who checks into the resort."

The order in which the four players finished in Kauai corresponded with the descending plausibility of their major victories. In an SI poll conducted before his win at Olympia Fields, Fuiyk's peers had voted him, out of all the players who had never won a major, the most likely to do so. (As the owner of a vacation home in Maui and the winner of three previous tournaments in Hawaii, he was also the heavy favorite to come away with the $400,000 first prize at Kauai.) Weir's green jacket had been only a slightly larger surprise. The triumphs of Curtis and Micheel, on the other hand, might fairly be described as miraculous, with the Ohioan—BEN WHO?, as he was dubbed by the British tabloids—requiring the greater measure of divine intervention. For the first time in the 21-year history of the Grand Slam of Golf, all the contestants were first-time major winners. The fact that not all of them have grown entirely accustomed to their new roles as golfing immortals lent the '03 Slam much of its charm. It was refreshing to look on, for instance, as Micheel struggled with his earpiece before the kick-off press conference last Thursday morning.

"I'm not really sure how this thing goes on," he said.

"It's easier if you put it in your right ear," suggested a techie.

"Wow! You can hear other people talking," said Micheel, once the earpiece was in place. "That's really distracting."

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