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GOLF / THOMAS BONK : For Nick Price, Winning Ways Began With Losing

The beginning of the beginning for Nick Price was the end of a tournament that he lost six years ago.

Actually, it wasn’t just any tournament. It was the 1988 British Open, when Price was edged by Seve Ballesteros in the closing round.

“I knew then my long game was not (enough) to get me to win major championships,” said Price, whose closing-round 69 at Royal Lytham in England didn’t match up to Ballesteros’ 65. “If I had to look at that championship in ’88, it was only my short game that stopped me from winning because if my short game had been as strong as his, I may have beaten him that day.”

Price said that was the turning point in his career, the event that prompted him to work on his short game. According to the British Open champion and now two-time PGA champion, it is the secret to his success.

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“Now, it seems like, week in and week out, it’s what keeps me going,” he said. “My swing is much the same as it has been for the last two or three years.”

Not only is Price the best player in golf right now, he also may be one of the nicest. Certainly he is among the writers’ favorites. Last year, Dave Hackenberg of the Toledo Blade needed to interview Price, whom he had never met, because Price soon was to play the PGA Championship at Inverness in Toledo as the defending champion.

Price asked how much time he needed and Hackenberg said he was sorry, but he really needed 30 minutes or longer.

“He thought for a minute and said ‘Do you have any dinner plans?’ ” Hackenberg said. “He took me to dinner, we talked for two hours and he wouldn’t even let me pick up the check.”

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The way Price is playing now, he could afford to take a whole bunch of people to dinner.

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A new Cup: For all you Ryder Cup fans out there, here’s something along the same lines. It’s the Presidents Cup, a Ryder Cup-inspired team competition between 12 players from the United States and 12 players from everywhere else, except Europe.

The first Presidents Cup will be played Sept. 16-18 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., then will be played every other year, alternating with the Ryder Cup. The Presidents Cup is the brainchild of the PGA Tour, whereas the Ryder Cup is under the control of the PGA of America and has been in business since 1927.

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Both the PGA of America and the PGA Tour hope there is no conflict.

“We’ve been assured by players and the PGA Tour office that they’d never do anything to harm the Ryder Cup,” said Jim Awtrey, chief executive officer of the PGA of America.

Lanny Wadkins, the Ryder Cup captain, said he doesn’t think the Presidents Cup will hurt the Ryder Cup.

“The Ryder Cup is too strong an entity,” Wadkins said. “For me, it probably offers a chance to watch guys like Loren Roberts and Jeff Maggert and Tom Lehman play in that type of competition this year because these are guys that will probably make my next Ryder Cup team.”

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Hale Irwin is the U.S. captain and David Graham of Australia is the international team captain for the Presidents Cup. Both will be eligible to play, and Irwin is considered likely to grab his clubs. For that reason, Paul Azinger was named Friday as a co-captain.

The U.S. team will be selected from how the players stand on the money list as of next Sunday. The international team’s eligibility is based on the Sony rankings.

The current top 12 for the U.S. are Maggert, Corey Pavin, Lehman, Roberts, John Huston, Jim Gallagher Jr., Irwin, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Jay Haas, Tom Kite and David Edwards. The current top 12 eligible for the international team are Price (Zimbabwe), Greg Norman (Australia), Ernie Els (South Africa), David Frost (South Africa), Jumbo Ozaki (Japan), Mark McNulty (Zimbabwe), Vijay Singh (Fiji), Frank Nobilo (New Zealand), Tommy Nakajima (Japan), Steve Elkington (Australia), Peter Senior (Australia) and Craig Parry (Australia).

Els said last week he would not play and neither Ozaki and Nakajima is expected to play. The next three eligible are Robert Allenby (Australia), Tony Johnstone (Zimbabwe) and Rodger Davis (Australia).

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Sooner than you think: Price’s name barely has been inscribed on the Wanamaker Trophy, but preparations for the 77th PGA Championship at Riviera are well under way.

Ticket sales were begun at a press conference at Riviera and telephones were continually busy when ticket information was given on the CBS telecast of the PGA last weekend from Southern Hills in Tulsa. Part of the reason for the ticket success is a clever phone number: (800) PGA IN 95.

More than 2,000 volunteers are being sought and those interested will be volunteering more than their time. There is a $140 volunteer fee. The event is projected to generate an economic impact of $40 million or more.

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Snow job: Who says no one has an idea how to slow down Nick Price?

Phil Mickelson, who finished third to Price in the PGA Championship, has a plan: “I’m going to do my best to take him skiing next winter.”

Mickelson broke bones in both legs in a skiing accident in March.

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And Rocko Mediate: From The Good Doctor’s column in Inside Sports:

Question: Who are the favorites at the Fred Flintstone Memorial Golf Classic at Pebble Beach?

Answer: I’m picking Quarry Pavin, Jack Bricklaus, Greg Oreman, David Pebbles, Fred Rubbles, Shale Irwin, Fuzzy Boulder, Bren Crenstone and Chi Chi Rockriguez.

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Flying Kite: In case you missed it, the $22,500 Tom Kite earned for tying for 11th place at the Buick Open two weeks ago means he is the first player in PGA Tour history to earn $9 million.

Golf Notes

The South golf course at Coto de Caza, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is on schedule and is expected to open next spring. . . . The 17th Dr. Mayme Clayton Classic will be held Sept. 10 at the Chester Washington course. The event benefits the Western States Black Research and Educational Center. Details: (213) 737-3292.

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The Exchange Club of Culver City is conducting a tournament to benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California on Sept. 12 at Wilshire Country Club. Details: (310) 641-8152. . . . The American Cancer Society’s Women’s golf classic will be held Oct. 24 at SeaCliff Country Club in Huntington Beach. Proceeds will go to breast cancer research, programs and services.

The PGA of America selected the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., as the site of the 1999 Ryder Cup matches. The Country Club’s 7,010-yard, par-71 course has been the venue for three U.S. Opens, most recently in 1988 when Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff. Ryder Cup matches between 12 professionals from the United States and 12 from Europe are held every two years on alternate sides of the Atlantic.


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