GOLF : A Three-Win Year Looks Good Now
Steve Jones, Tom Kite and Mark Calcavecchia each had the distinction of winning three tournaments this year.
Jones was in a special category, scoring victories in consecutive weeks.
However, as the 1990 PGA Tour begins Thursday with the $750,000 MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa, there is a perception that the pro golf circuit lacks stars in the mold of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
It is pointed out that no one has won more than four tournaments in a year since Watson won six in 1980.
It has been further theorized that the pros make so much money for a top-10 finish, or even lower, that their zest for actually winning has abated.
Jones, the defending TOC champion, has heard such talk.
“That’s not true,” he said. “You ought to see some of those guys out there practicing. I feel I practice quite a bit, but I’ll see someone and say, ‘Man, don’t practice so much.’ If anything, the players are overprepared.”
Watson has said it would be difficult for anyone to win as many as five or six tournaments in a year now, considering the competition on the tour.
So Jones’ three victories, the TOC, the Bob Hope Classic and later the Canadian Open, should be viewed in the context of today’s quality fields.
Jones, who turned 31 Wednesday, surprised himself by winning at La Costa last January, in his first appearance, over a select field that included only winners of 1988 tour events.
For one thing, Jones didn’t think he was properly prepared for the tournament.
“Physically, my game wasn’t that great,” he said. “I was coming off a week vacation in Montana, so I only had a few practice days.”
Moreover, Jones, a former high school basketball star from Yuma, Colo., won only one previous tournament in a career that began in 1982--the AT&T; Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
That victory, of course, qualified him for the Tournament of Champions.
Furthermore, Jones had an errant driver during the La Costa tournament, missing 17 fairways.
But Jones had a radar-like putter for four days, and that, he said, is the key to winning any tournament.
“Any player who gets his putting stroke going can win a tournament no matter where it is,” he said. “In the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season I didn’t miss a putt under eight feet. My feeling was, just get me on the green.”
Jones benefited from another type of green, the kind you can spend. He finished eighth on the 1989 money-winning list, earning $745,578.
That was more than three times as much as he made the previous year.
His putting stroke was mainly responsible for him becoming one of the elite players on the Tour. He was its leading putter in 1989 with a 1.734 average per green.
Reflecting on his season, Jones said: “I never thought I would win three tournaments in one year, let alone back-to-back. I didn’t exactly fall into a slump (after the first two victories), but I never got it going from February through June, until the Canadian Open win.
“That was important. You can win when you’re hot. But it’s something else to try to win when you don’t know if you’ll ever win again. I’m very thankful for that.”
Like any other player on the tour, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Jones, who credits his success to his conversion to Christianity five years ago, wants to win one of golf’s major championships--the U.S. Open, the Masters, the PGA Championship or the British Open.
“The majors are one of my goals,” he said. “The (U.S.) Open and Masters are different tournaments because of the rough factor. To win the Open, you have to hit more fairways. In the Masters, you have to putt. To win one of each in the majors is really a feat. It’s something to shoot for, not that you’ll do it.”
In an interview, Jones showed he has a droll sense of humor.
Asked what he remembers most from his visit to La Costa last January, he said: “Those good back massages (at the spa) helped me a lot. Then when I was getting a facial, I said it was my first, and a lady said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”
Also when asked what part of his game has improved the most, Jones said: “My sand play.”
“From getting in the sand a lot,” he said. “It’s the only way to learn.”
Jones also discarded the low-degree lofted drivers he used so errantly in the TOC and is using a driver with more loft.
“It has helped me a lot,” he said. “I don’t hit the ball quite as far but I hit it higher. Now I have 10 drivers sitting at home that are useless.”
A garage sale would seem appropriate.
Jones, Steve Pate, in 1988, and Mac O’Grady, in 1987, won at La Costa in their first appearances in the tournament.
Nine first-time qualifiers for the tournament will try to extend that streak: Greg Twiggs, brothers Tom and Curt Byrum, Ted Schulz, Mike Donald, Stan Utley, Bill Britton and Australians Ian Baker-Finch and Wayne Grady.
O’Grady’s victory was the first for a TOC “rookie” in 15 years.
Jim Lyle, the Nissan Los Angeles Open chairman, is a sergeant with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. Lyle, 46, lives in La Mirada, is a graduate of the University of Redlands and has worked with the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce on golf activities for 10 years. . . . Chad Morris, a Cal State Long Beach senior, and Chris Harvey, a 1989 Fresno State graduate, are the amateur qualifiers for the L.A. Open, Feb. 22-25 at Riviera Country Club.
The Golden State Golf Tour’s Spalding professional series will start Jan. 11-12 at Angel Park Golf Club in Las Vegas. The tour will consist of 12 36-hole tournaments with $20,000 purses. The regular Golden State tour for pros, amateurs and seniors will open its eighth season Jan. 8 at Via Verde Country Club in San Dimas. An added feature of Doug Ives’ tournament program will be a Midlife Crisis Tour for players 36 and up who don’t feel at home playing with long-hitting youngsters. It will make its debut Jan. 18 at Temecula Creek Golf Club in Temecula.
An Antelope Valley Country Club team of Dave Hutchinson, Ken Cox, Bob Herman and pro Steve Applegate won the Rums of Puerto Rico National Club Pro-Am at the Cerromar Beach course in Dorado, Puerto Rico. They defeated Furnace Creek Country Club of Quincy, Mass., by two strokes in the 54-hole event for teams with a professional, an A player with a 0-10 handicap, a B player with an 11-15 handicap and a C player with a 16-20 handicap. Applegate earned $5,750 as low professional. Tied for fifth was the Mesa Verde Country Club team of Bill Ott, Al Bauer, Jim Wardl and pro Art Schilling of Costa Mesa.
Final qualifying for the first 25 exemptions on the Ben Hogan Tour will start Monday at Grenelefe Golf Club in Florida. Local pros will have their chance at getting into the opening Hogan event at Bakersfield, in a special 18-hole qualifier Jan. 22 at Pasadena’s Annandale Golf Club. Fourteen from a field of more than 100 will qualify. Eight more entries will come from a final open qualifying round Jan. 29 at Bakersfield Country Club, for which pros and amateurs with a handicap of two or under are eligible. The 54-hole tournament will be Feb. 2-4 at Bakersfield.