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Heavy Traffic on the Sports Calendar

By John M. Ross,
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The PGA Tour is in full swing again, and it seems like only a week or so since the checks were passed out at the final event of 2001. I was thinking about that the other day as I thumbed through the sports pages of the local paper and realized, though it was January, they were bulging with activity. Indeed, it seemed as if every sport on the calendar was in high gear and making news.

There was a time when each sport had its own season, more or less, and they would get off the stage on schedule, letting the next one move into the spotlight for its fair share. But each sport has let its schedule grow and grow in recent years to the point where we now have this enormous overlap and very heavy traffic.

Before TV, college football usually was off the stage after a handful of traditional Thanksgiving Day games were played. Pro football started later in those days and there seemed to be some concern for not stepping on the college programs that produced the future stars for the NFL. But the arrival of TV - and especially cable and its insatiable appetite for sports programming - changed all that. Where once there were four or five bowl games on or around New Year's Day, the list has swelled to 24.

In the meantime, hockey, pro and college basketball all were trying to attract some attention, and baseball was wowing its customers with the dazzling figures of free agency and its ever-expanding rosters of young millionaires.

With the big dollars of TV programming luring them on, the schedules - and franchises - have grown and grown. At one time, exhibition schedules for all sports were simply part of the conditioning process in preparation for the main season. Thanks to the tube, for most sports they have now been labeled pre-season games and have become a significant part of a team's income structure.

For most sports fans, this is a distinct plus, since it provides virtually a year-round and wide selection of events and makes for a busy clicker. Frankly, I liked the older, more orderly way better. It provided time to shift gears and adjust. Now, it seems like one mad scramble out there, with more and more teams with strange nicknames to sort out. The five-minute sports wrap-up on the nightly news can b a test for one's sanity.

The golf season doesn't seem to have an end anymore. The PGA and other official tournament schedules do have a cutoff date sometime in November, but then the "silly season," with its variety of entertaining events comes along and lasts until the PGA and other circuits start up again. But, oddly enough, I don't mind the lack of a pause in this case.

The truth is I look forward to the kickoff of the new season with the events in Hawaii. For the frost-bound golfer, TV's background shots of the palm trees swaying in the warm breeze and the surfers challenging the azure off-island currents seem to take some of the chill out of winter. To this day, the coverage of the early events from Hawaii on the tube triggers countless thousands into making reservations for the Pacific's paradise islands.

The effectiveness of golf as a lure to winter vacationers surfaced back in the early '60s, when the Hawaiian Open was launched. United Airlines was involved in the sponsorship and its folks were giddy with delight when their telephones and those of their travel agents rang off the walls during and after the tournament. It helped establish Hawaii as one of the major golf destinations in the world of tourism and gave Hawaii a source of revenue second only to it sugar exports.

Of course, those watching the playing of the third round of the Mercedes Championships on Maui last week saw something other than the beauty and tranquility of Hawaii. Winds roaring in from the ocean at over 35 mph, turned the lovely landscape of Kapalua into an ugly monster for the players, and it was fortunate for the producers that the TV mikes didn't pick up the colorful, if slightly soiled, comments of the frustrated players.

But it did make for exciting golf television - especially for those who also like to see grown men cry!

Some years ago, when we launched the annual All-America Team selections at Golf Magazine, we'd do the actual polling of the tour players in the locker rooms at the various stops on the circuit. Our editors and other staffers would ask them to select the players they judged most proficient with the various clubs in the bag: Best Driver. Best Long Irons Player, etc. In overhearing some of the sounds, it struck me that I was hearing the essence of a similar response numerous times when the question of Best Putter was raised. More than a few times, a player would say something like, "Well, who's the leading money winner? He's the best putter!"

This goes right along with the overused adage, "You drive for show and putt for dough."

These lines ran through my head recently when I became immersed in the year-ending statistics for the various tours. I knew that Tiger Woods' numbers would stand out. After all, he won more tournaments than anyone (5), topped the money list ($5.6 million) and had the best scoring average (68.87). But when I looked at the Putts Per Round Averages, I was stunned. Tiger was tied for No. 133 with a 29.51 average. Tied, incidentally, with Scott Dunlop, who was 119th on the money list, and Mark Hensby, who was even lower at No. 179 on that chart.

My curiosity took me to the stats for the European Tour, and, bingo, the same thing. Retief Goosen, its leading money-winner, who came over here to win the U. S. Open, had a 29.7 average that gave him 104th place in the putting chart.

Pushing on, I was sure the ladies would keep the old rule of thumb alive. After all, it had been the year of years for Annika Sorenstam. She had won eight times, had set the all-time LPGA scoring record of 59, and had topped the earnings chart with about $500,000 to spare. She also headed the stats in Scoring Average, Total Driving, and Greens in Regulation. But in Putting Average, she was 100th, with an average of 30.38.

All together now, "You drive for show and putt for dough?"

Also, in the how-does-it-figure category, Tiger came in no better than No. 12 in the Best All Around category. Phil Mickelson, who finished $1.1 million behind Woods on the money chart, was No. 1 statistically.

Yes, golf is a funny game!

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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