Golf : Record Field of 38 Winners Set to Open PGA Tour at La Costa

The longest season in professional sports, the PGA Tour, begins an 11-month run Thursday with the $500,000 MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa, where there will be a record field of 38 golfers, 10 of them making their first appearances in the T of C.

One of those is Paul Azinger, the PGA player of the year. The Tournament of Champions, which has been called golf's most exclusive tournament, also has leading money winner Curtis Strange, U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson, Masters champion Larry Mize, PGA winner Larry Nelson and British Open champion Nick Faldo.

Only winners of PGA Tour events and the U.S. and British opens in the last 12 months are eligible for the T of C. Sometimes, the field changes drastically from year to year. Just 9 of the 29 who played in 1987 are back this year.

There is also a Senior T of C with a $100,000 purse and it will also be played Thursday though Sunday.

The Tournament of Champions starts pro golfers on a run for about $34 million in prize money in the 44 fully official tournaments. Thirty-seven Senior Tour tournaments offer $14 million in prize money.

But although the PGA is rich--there are seven $1 million tournaments--it is not necessarily happy.

One of the big problems is the apparent dominance of foreign golfers. Veteran Associated Press golf writer Bob Green refers to the situation as a "perceived phenomena" enforced by Europe's Ryder Cup victory in 1987 as well as Welsh golfer Ian Woosnam's rise to a position at or near the world's No. 1 spot.

Jack Nicklaus, the first captain of an American Ryder Cup team to lose on U.S. soil, has been outspoken recently on the rise of foreign players, blaming the larger tournament purses on the American tour. He said that too much money dulls the killer instinct necessary to win at the highest level of the game.

"There is a welfare feeling out there," said Nicklaus, who lists Seve Ballesteros of Spain and Greg Norman of Australia as the top two players in the world.

And Woosnam has nearly $2 million in world-wide earnings to go along with five European titles, victories in Hong Kong and South Africa and an individual title in the World Cup. Both Woosnam and Ballesteros are considering expanded play in the United States this year.

Sam Snead is 75, but he has no plans to embarrass himself when he plays in the first Senior Skins Game, worth $360,000, Super Bowl weekend on Oahu.

So why is he playing?

"I'd have to be lying if I didn't say I was doing it for the money," Snead said. "I'm going to give it my best shot. I try not to let nerves bother me. I don't think much."

Snead will join Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Chi Chi Rodriguez in the Senior Skins Game, which will be carried by NBC-TV from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (PST) Jan. 30, and 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 31.

Now, after the Skins Game and the Senior Skins Game, what's next?

"The only one that we would be missing would be a Women's Skins," said Skins concept originator Don Ohlmeyer, who expects a Women's Skins game to be held in either April or June of 1989.

Players who think they're getting a patsy when they play the new Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage because it's named for a women are in for a surprise.

The course is 6,899 yards long and, next to PGA West, may be the second-most difficult course in the desert. On opening day, the best scores were 71s by pros Fred Couples and Brad Greer, and amateur Tim Wilcox, 20, a student at Fresno State and son of the course's director of golf Terry Wilcox.

"I am no longer Jack Nicklaus. I'm Jack Nicklaus, but I'm no longer Jack Nicklaus."

This is not easy to understand. It's easy to understand, but it's not easy to understand.

In the January issue of Golf Industry magazine, Nicklaus explains: He isn't himself lately. Sure, that man Barbara Nicklaus sees around the house really is her husband, but this Jack Nicklaus says he can no longer play golf the way he used to.

"How much I play in the future will probably be very little," Nicklaus was quoted as saying. "I don't play the way I used to play. I don't have the ability to do it. Occasionally, I might have the spark and play well, but I'm being realistic. I don't have the time."

South African golfer Gary Player has ended his affiliation with a planned $6.5-million golf course under construction near Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Several student and faculty groups had claimed that the school's relationship with Player violated international sanctions against South Africa imposed because of apartheid, that nation's system of racial separation.

A spokesman for the university said the school had been considering dropping Player's name from the course if the dispute had not been resolved.

The controversy began in October, when Player contracted with the university to allow his name to be used with the new course.

The controversy extended beyond the golf course, which was vandalized in November, to include a scholarship fund for a South African student to study at Eastern Michigan. Player's withdrawal has killed the scholarship, but not the golf course, which is scheduled for completion later this year.

A member of Progressive Students for Social Change in Ypsilanti said the fund would have benefited students chosen by the South African government, not students strongly opposing apartheid.

Golf Notes

Curtis Strange was named player of the year by the Golf Writers Assn. of America. Strange, who set a PGA Tour money-winning record of $925,941 this season, also won the writers' award in 1985. Paul Azinger was second in the national balloting by the 500-member writers' group. The writers also named Betsy King the LPGA women's player of the year and Chi Chi Rodriguez senior player of the year. . . . Former USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux's annual Trojan major league invitational golf tournament will be played Jan. 18 at Lakeside Golf Club. . . . The second annual Major League Baseball Players Alumni Assn. benefit tournament will be played Feb. 8 at Mission Viejo Country Club. The tournament raises money for the Orange County Burn Assn. as well as the Alumni Assn. benefit fund. Among those scheduled to play are Bob Lemon, Ernie Banks, Billy Martin, Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven, Bobby Grich, Doug DeCinces and Milwaukee third base coach Tony Muser. Muser was severely burned in an explosion in the clubhouse during spring training in 1986.

Jack Nicklaus is getting a new image. Hiro Yamagata, the official artist of the U.S. Olympic teams, will do a series of five paintings of Nicklaus, each one representing a highlight of his career from the 1987 Ryder Cup, the PGA, U.S. Open, British Open and Masters. . . . Jeff Manson of Long Beach, former UCLA golfer Kay Cockerill of Los Gatos and John Richardson of Laguna Niguel are among those honored by Golf Digest magazine as top-ranked amateur golfers for 1987. Manson, 17, was selected as the top-ranked junior male golfer of the year; Cockerill, 22, was named the top female, and Richardson, 67, was picked as the top senior.

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