Fred couples won the (Ahem) Johnnie Walker (nudge, nudge) World Championship on Sunday at the (wink, wink) world-famous Tryall golf course in (suppressed giggle) golf-mad Jamaica. He took home a first-place check worth $525,000 (gasp).
What was not unimaginable was Couples's winning it. Boom-Boom has been dynamite since the U.S. Open in June, winning three tournaments, riding shotgun during the U.S.'s win at the Ryder Cup this fall and finishing in the top six in 12 out of 14 tournaments. For the year he earned enough prize money ($1.725 million) to purchase a small Florida. And it was not unimaginable that Couples—once golf's perennial Saturday leader, Sunday loser—threw what he called his "best Sunday finish" at 'em, a sporty 66, the best round by anybody all week. The old Couples would have shot 40 on the back nine, then gone to the wrong airport. This Couples had that Tom Watson steel in his eye. No wonder: He got it from Watson, who recently hosted Couples for a week at his home in suburban Kansas City. During the stay, Watson told him, "Don't play 63 holes of a tournament and then let down the last nine. Pay attention to every shot."
No, what was unimaginable was that there even was a so-called World Championship for the suddenly Ready Freddy to win in the first place. The event is solely the invention of the International Management Group (IMG), which found one of the last open weeks on the already cluttered golf calendar, convinced a liquor company to pour $2.55 million into the event, rented a practically unknown course in the eastern time zone with lots of water and palm trees (good for TV), grew the rough nearly as high as Ian Woosnam, supposedly limited the field to the winners of what IMG deemed to be 26 of the best tournaments in the world (though three of the top five finishers last weekend had, in fact, entered by special invitation) and slapped a pretty title on it. Voila! Instant classic. Isn't that how the Masters was invented?
The only problems were that Tryall was not a great course (it was a resort course; more than 400 yards had to be added just to reach 6,848), not all the world's greatest players were here (notably absent were Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal and three of Europe's other top 10 money-winners), and nobody in Jamaica gave two coconuts about it. At one point on Thursday, U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart and British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch were playing the 18th hole, and not 10 people were following along.
"Geez, Ian," a reporter said later. "You only had three people following you guys on 18."
"Yeah," said Baker-Finch, "but there had to be four or five on 17."
It was as if they were holding the world chess championships at the Tastee-Freez in Keokuk, Iowa.
Oh, well, everybody repeat after me: All that matters is TV. And this event was TV City. It was aired on tape-delay in the U.S. for the perfect scheduling fit. There was a small, 26-man field for easy camera work, but there were plenty of big names for ratings. And there was no messy crowd to tangle up the cables.
The only thing the players had to worry about was screwing up, finishing dead last and going home with a mere $50,000. That was what John Daly won for shooting 77 and 87 in the first two rounds, signing an incorrect scorecard (he made 6 on the last hole on Friday, not 5) for a disqualification and getting on the next Air Jamaica flight out. Those scores won't win you a set of Wiffle balls anywhere else, but this Daly bread alone almost equaled all his 1990 Ben Hogan tour checks combined. No wonder he was in such a chipper mood about it all. "Hey, I got my spot covered," Daly said with a grin before departing.
Nevertheless, you got the feeling that if Daly doesn't slow down, he's going to end up as the Schwab's Drugstore Boy of the Month. Since winning the PGA in August, he and his Titleist-eating driver have been around the world nearly twice. He blew into Montego Bay as one burned-out little pheenom rookie, and he played like it. On Thursday, Daly four-putted number 11 by raking the ball toward the hole from four feet and missing. On Friday he made a nifty 8 on the same hole, followed shortly thereafter by a sudden alteration to his putter. What happened, Long John?