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Golf : Watson Would Let Ballesteros Play in U.S. Whenever He Wants

The PGA Tour has its share of stars, currently such players as Curtis Strange, Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Kite. They’re not as dominating, though, as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were in the 1960s, or Nicklaus and Tom Watson in the 1970s.

Watson says, however, that there is a player who would make a considerable impact on the tour if he were allowed to participate more often.

He was referring to the flamboyant Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros.

Ballesteros lost his membership on the American tour in 1985, when he declined to play in at least 15 tournaments, the minimum required.

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As a non-member, Ballesteros is limited to five appearances a year, plus the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA.

Watson said the rules should be changed to allow Ballesteros to play on the tour as often as he wants.

“If I were commissioner, I’d let him have a sponsor’s exemption every week,” Watson said. “Seve believes he should be able to play the tour any time he wishes. We, as American players, go all over the world and play anytime we wish.

“I think each tournament should have an open, unrestricted sponsor’s exemption to give to whomever they want. I’m definitely in a minority, the way most players feel about Seve and his eligibility requirements.

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“I think he is one of the great players who have ever played the game, and we say you can’t play our tour unless you play 15 events.

“Why keep Seve out? He adds 10,000, 20,000, maybe 50,000 to a gallery during the week. Every sponsor would love to have Seve Ballesteros play.

“He has only won the Masters twice and the British Open three times. I think he’s qualified, don’t you?”

Nicklaus said he is feeling a lot better about his game since his chronic back problems have subsided.

He was in contention in the Players Championship last week at Ponte Vedra, Fla., until the final day, when he shot a 78.

Nicklaus had missed the cut in that tournament the previous three years and, when he came into the interview room, he looked around, smiled and said, “So this is what it looks like.”

Nicklaus, 49, said he has a renewed outlook about his game now that his back isn’t bothering him.

“I’ve always had a good positive attitude all my life until the last three or four years,” he said. “I hadn’t worked on my golf game, or my attitude.

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“If you’re hurting all the time, you can’t go after something. You feel you’re way behind everybody else, behind the eight ball.”

Nicklaus was asked if he’s irritated because writers don’t regard him as much of a factor anymore.

“I don’t consider myself a factor most of the time,” he said. “The last time I won a golf tournament was 1986 (the Masters), and the time before that was 1984. I’ve only been in contention a couple of times since 1986.”

Then, he smiled and added, “Sometimes I enjoy being written off.”

Nicklaus said he has benefited from an exercise program prescribed by Pete Egoscue, a San Diego anatomical therapist.

“Pete is very low-key and very professional about what he does and I have the utmost confidence in him,” said Nicklaus, adding that Egoscue has also helped Greg Norman, who had been troubled by a sore wrist.

Bob Beamon’s long jump record of 29 feet 2 1/2 inches has become almost a mystical accomplishment over the years.

Beamon set it in 1968 and it has stood the test of time despite continued assaults on it, mainly by Carl Lewis.

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Golf has its equivalent in the single round tour record of 59, set by Al Geiberger in Memphis, Tenn., in 1977.

To put the record in perspective, only seven scores of 60 have been recorded, the last by Sam Snead in the Dallas Open 32 years ago.

Can Geiberger’s feat be matched?

“Why not?” Nicklaus said. “It would depend on the course and conditions, but it could be done.”

Said Calcavecchia: “It will be shot on a day when there isn’t any wind, the fairways are perfect and you can reach the par-fives in two. Then, if you get your driver, wedges and putter going, you can go crazy.”

Masters champion Sandy Lyle recalls that he birdied 10 of the first 12 holes in a tournament in Paris.

“I remember thinking that I surely could make a few more birdies,” Lyle said. “I did, but I also had a bogey and shot a 61.”

Dan Pohl thought he had a shot at it at the recent Honda tournament. He was nine under par with five holes left. But he played those holes only one under par and finished with a 62.

“I would rather shoot 59 than win the golf tournament,” Pohl said. “I think it’s more important.”

Geiberger said he wasn’t thinking much about the record when he shot it.

“Since then, it’s something of a psychological barrier,” he said. “Everyone is aware of it, everyone is thinking about it. It’s a long way from 61 to 59. It’s only two shots, but there are only 18 holes out there.”

Golf Notes

The Nabisco Dinah Shore LPGA tournament begins Thursday at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Amy Alcott is the defending champion in the $500,000 event. She celebrated her victory in Jerry Pate-style last year by jumping into a lake surrounding the 18th green. A two-day celebrity pro-am will precede the tournament.

Seve Ballesteros has feuded with PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman regarding his eligibility status on the tour. But when asked his reaction to the Beman’s decision to ban the use of clubs with U-shaped grooves starting in 1990, Ballesteros said: “Deane Beman was right--for once.” . . . The 13-event Spalding series of the Golden State Tour concludes with a championship tournament Monday and Tuesday at Monarch Beach in Laguna Niguel. . . . The Discovery Museum of Orange County will hold its annual celebrity tournament April 17 at the Santa Ana Country Club. . . . The eighth annual NFL Alumni Charity tournament is scheduled April 10 at the Industry Hills Sheraton Resort.


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