INTO THE CLOWN'S MOUTH
For the past eight years, a golf outing called the Tournament Players Championship has been grandly declaring itself a major event while much of the public has been busy stifling yawns, thereby proving it's tough to become a major championship by self-proclamation. But what the latest TPC, a rain-delayed tournament completed on March 23 at Saw-grass near Jacksonville, further demonstrated was even more illuminating, namely, that the PGA Tour isn't going to have much luck trying to cure its ills with gimmickry and hype.
The game's woes are real enough. Because of mounting greens fees and a sharp decline in caddying opportunities, golf has had difficulty attracting younger participants, leaving the sport very much the province of a relatively small number of older, mostly affluent folk. And the PGA Tour, with its shortage of colorful personalities, has had difficulty attracting new fans. No wonder TV coverage has been shrinking and sponsors have been falling all over themselves trying to induce the sport's few big names to play in their tournaments. Developments at Sawgrass suggest, however, that it might be better just to ride out the hard times than to resort to some of the desperate measures tried so far.
Take the unprecedented windfall reaped by Raymond Floyd in winning the TPC. To attract the strongest possible fields, tournament promoters have lately been joining forces to offer improbable monetary incentives. For example, sponsors of the TPC and two earlier Florida events, the Inverrary Classic and the Doral Open, combined to offer bonuses to anybody winning all three events ($500,000), any two of the events successively ($250,000), or the first and third of them ($100,000). Enter Floyd, who had won the Doral the week before the TPC. By then winning the TPC, he pocketed not only $72,000 in first-prize money (his purse at the Doral was $45,000) but also the $250,000 bonus, thereby enjoying far and away the biggest payday in golf history.
Though the bonus delighted Floyd, it didn't do much for golf. Duke Butler, executive director of the Houston Golf Association, which refused to let its tournament, the Houston Open, join with the Byron Nelson Classic and Colonial National Invitation in a similar bonus scheme in Texas last spring, says, "I think gimmicks hurt golf, and this is certainly a gimmick." Butler believes that golf is a good enough game to stand on its own, and he may have a point. To win the TPC, Floyd dramatically came from six strokes back to force a playoff, in which he beat Barry Jaeckel, who had led after the second and third rounds, and Curtis Strange. But because of the fuss over all that loot, the circumstances of Floyd's exciting victory were obscured.
Another dubious innovation at the TPC was the introduction of new computerized scoreboards that were generous with biographical info and promotional messages—SUPPORT JUNIOR GOLF—but stingy about dispensing such incidental intelligence as who was leading the tournament, prompting one player, Jim Simons, to lament, "Every time I looked at the board I kept finding out how tall I was." Other players grumbled about the new course across the road from Sawgrass that, starting next year, will host the TPC and serve as the PGA Tour's home layout. The greens are too small and cute for their own good—the 17th green is literally an island—and may wind up producing better wisecracks than golf, the best so far being by Miller Barber. He told the architect, Pete Dye, "I want to congratulate you on a magnificent golf course. It's just sensational. When are you going to put the greens in?" Chimes in Jay Haas, "I wonder if anyone has hit one in the clown's mouth yet." Jack Nicklaus, himself a golf-course architect, tried defending Dye's handiwork over dinner one evening with Tom Watson by suggesting that the course could be made more playable with some routine, if costly, revisions. Watson's reply seemed to reflect the frustration rampant in pro golf these days: "Why in the world can't these things be done right the first time?"
Since 1961, Chick Hearn has been entertaining Los Angeles Laker fans with his distinctive run-and-gun delivery as the club's broadcaster on radio and TV. Hearn became so popular that an antenna had to be installed on the Forum's roof to allow doting Angelenos to tune him in on transistor radios while attending games, just as they insist on listening to Vin Scully while watching the Dodgers. Two weeks ago, to commemorate his 20th anniversary as the Laker broadcaster, Hearn was honored at halftime ceremonies attended by former Laker stars Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and owner Jerry Buss, who read greetings from President Reagan and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley. A highlight of the festivities came when actress Angie Dickinson presented Hearn with a popcorn maker in recognition of a favorite expression of his: "He faked his man into the popcorn machines."
That's just one of Hearn's many colorful contributions to the basketball idiom. Hearn is credited with originating such expressions as "air ball," "finger roll," "throwing up a prayer," "no harm, no foul" and "dribble drive." He has also helped popularize "slam dunk," "unanswered points" and "fallaway jumper." And he gets chuckles from listeners by telling them things like, "The Lakers are moving left to right across your radio dial." Other Chickisms:
The mustard fell off the hot dog. Translation: somebody has just committed a mistake caused by excessive showboating.