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Pebble Beach Golf Tournament : Game’s Rich Will Try to Get Even Richer

Times Staff Writer

In 1968, Arnold Palmer became the first pro golfer to earn $1 million in career winnings. Beginning today, 13 players have a chance to become the first to make a million this year.

What’s the best way to look at this?

“It’s unreal,” Chip Beck said.

Then is this golf or banking?

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“I don’t think many of the guys have cash registers in their eyes,” Mark McCumber said.

Beck, the leading money winner with $776,018, is staring a potential $535,000-payday right in the dollar signs at the $2 million Nabisco Championships. But then so are the 12 others who follow him on the year’s money list.

This tournament is worth $360,000 to the winner, the biggest first-place purse in pro golf. And should the winner then finish atop the season money list, he gets another $175,000 from the bonus pool.

So Beck will finish with more than $1.13 million if he wins, but he said such a sum won’t change his life.

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“It’s just money in the bank,” he said. “It’s so unbelievable, though. It’s probably more money than people make in 5 years.”

Probably? If Beck knows a lot of people who make $1.13 million in 5 years, he’s obviously hanging out with the right crowd.

The richest season in PGA Tour history, a 10-month span of 44 fully official tournaments worth $34 million in prize money, will come to a close Sunday with one final run to the bank from the booming surf of the Monterey Peninsula.

It is clear that 1988 has been a money kind of year. The ledger shows that there were 8 tournaments with at least $1 million in prize money this year. And this tournament alone, counting the bonus pool money, is worth $3 million.

Next year, naturally, there will be even more available, because first prize in the Nabisco will climb to $460,000. Some golfers are finding it difficult to keep up with it all.

Sandy Lyle, for instance, No. 3 on this year’s PGA money list with $653,334, has already earned $1.3 million counting his tournaments worldwide. If Lyle wins here, what could he possibly get for himself?

“I might buy a new adding machine,” he said.

Only the top 30 players on the PGA money list are competing here on the Pebble Beach Golf Links, which may have a few of its normal surprises in store before the weekend is over.

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The weather was sunny and mild for Wednesday’s final practice round but rain is forecast. That, with some wind, would make the course play up to its usual tough standard.

On its bad days, Pebble Beach is terribly unkind. Horror stories abound. Paul Harney once shot a 14 on the par-3 seventh.

Paul Azinger remembers one of the first times he played Pebble Beach. The wind was blowing so hard that his 25-foot putt on the sixth green didn’t get halfway to the hole.

In those conditions, McCumber said, Pebble Beach changes its personality.

“It’s a little like walking through land mines out there,” he said.

At any rate, even the losers are going to be winners this weekend. Last place is worth $32,000.

Last year, Curtis Strange finished last, but still finished as the leading money winner with a PGA record $924,941. He said that playing for so much money affected his game, but vowed not to let that happen again.

“You do kind of find yourself thinking too much about the money and not about the golf,” he said. “I’m going to play differently now.”

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Strange, who is seventh on the money list with $612,644, said he is concerned that the Nabisco can affect the season money list so drastically.

“I’d just hate to see somebody play really well all year and lose the money title because of the Nabisco,” he said. “To me, that’s sad. But we all know it, what this tournament means, before, so if that happens, we have to accept it. I just don’t know if it’s right or not.”

Not everyone is as concerned as Strange, though. Joey Sindelar, second on the money list with $708,532, figured that the Nabisco represents just about 6% of the total PGA prize money this year.

“If any of the guys who were so worried how it would affect the money list, maybe they should have played better in the other 94% of the tournaments and gotten a $360,000 lead and not have to worry about it,” he said.

Azinger, the 10th player on the money list, said that Beck, Sindelar, Lyle, Ben Crenshaw and Ken Green, the top five players on the money list, will find their pulses racing.

“They’re going to be 10 times more nervous,” he said. “They’ve got a lot to gain and they’re going to feel it. I don’t necessarily have that type of pressure, but they do.”

There is general agreement among the players here that previous success on Pebble Beach is essential for a potential victory.

Crenshaw said there is no way to underestimate the advantage of having played Pebble Beach time and time again.

“You take things and file them away every day,” he said. “When you need a certain shot, it’ll come to you.”

That certain shot may be needed Sunday on the classic 18th hole.

With the rugged coastline on the left, out of bounds on the right and trees at driving distance in the fairway, the 18th is capable of tightening the collar on a lot of golf shirts.

But on Sunday with a possible $535,000 at stake, the view from the 18th tee may be even more intimidating.

“It looks a lot tighter than it did Thursday afternoon,” Strange said.

Golf Notes

Curtis Strange’s team scored an apparent victory in the pro-am Wednesday, but was disqualified because Strange signed an incorrect score card. Strange shot 5 on the 18th but signed a card that showed a 4. . . . The worst scoring average in the field at Pebble Beach since 1982? Scott Verplank’s 78. Verplank squeaked into the field in the 30th and last spot after gambling that his total of $296,245 would be good enough and skipping the tournament last week at Tucson. “He’s the gutsiest golfer alive,” Strange said.

Chip Beck, Joey Sindelar and Sandy Lyle can all break the $1-million mark simply by winning the tournament and do not need the bonus money to get there. Lyle was philosophical about his chance of hitting the million mark on the tour. “You don’t see all of it anyway,” he said. “It goes to Mrs. (Margaret) Thatcher, most of it.” . . . No matter what happens here, Lyle appears to have locked up the PGA player-of-the-year award. It is based on a point system weighted on performances in major tournaments. Beck holds a 2-point lead over Strange for second, but they are both far behind Lyle, who needs this tournament to reach the minimum of 60 rounds.


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