PGA Tour rookie Chris Tidland qualified for the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where a dramatic duel won by the late Payne Stewart was made even more memorable by Phil Mickelson's pledge to leave if his wife went into labor.
"I was one of those people that thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if his pager went off," Tidland said. "But now, I believe him."
That's because Tidland speaks from experience.
Four months after Pinehurst, Tidland was packing his bags for Q-school when his wife went into labor and delivered their first child 10 weeks premature. The qualifying tournament was Tidland's only chance to get a card on the PGA or Buy.com Tour.
"My wife wanted me to go," he said. "She felt I was giving up so much. For me, it didn't feel like I was giving up anything. It wasn't even a tough decision."
Their son, Jackson Riley, steadily improved and was finally allowed to go home after 73 days in the hospital. Only then did Tidland, an All-American at Oklahoma State, start hitting balls and making plans for the long road ahead of him.
Despite being relegated to mini-tours and state opens, Tidland set a goal of earning $100,000. He stayed with family in California while playing something called the Zero Tour. He did well in the Oklahoma Open and other regional events.
The small checks added up, and Tidland surpassed his goal by making $25,000 in the final stage of Q-school. Better yet, he had his PGA Tour card - one year late.
The Buick Invitational was his best showing of the year. He was three strokes off the lead going into the weekend and wound up in a tie for 27th.
"I find it pretty amazing that just a little over a year ago, I wasn't even touching a club and didn't know the future of my family. I couldn't care less about my golf," Tidland said. "Now, I'm on the best tour in the world playing against the best in the world. I'm pretty lucky to be here."
END OF AN ERA:
Byron Nelson will hit a ceremonial tee shot to start the Masters for the 21st consecutive year. It also will be his last.
The two-time Masters champion told Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson that he wants to retire as a ceremonial starter because of age and nerves. Nelson retired from Masters competition in 1966.
"I do not play golf, very seldom," Nelson told The Augusta Chronicle. "And the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in golf is tee off there in front of all those people and hit the ball after I never hit the ball (all year)."
Nelson and the late Gene Sarazen became honorary starters in 1981, and Sam Snead joined them in 1984. Sarazen died two years ago at age 97.
Nelson said he would like to return to the Masters for the Champions Dinner without having to fret over his opening tee shot.
"I practice more for that one thing than what I do the whole rest of the year," Nelson said. "I worry about it a month before. It detracts from everything else that week. It's been bothering me for quite some time."
The latest meeting between Team Tiger and the PGA Tour had nothing to do with marketing rights or the Internet.
It was about security.
IMG agent Mark Steinberg was furious that autograph hounds were able to close in on his top client at Pebble Beach, where Woods hyperextended his left knee when he stepped awkwardly on one man.
Then, after his second round in San Diego, Woods saw the mass of people who had worked their way inside the ropes by the scoring trailer and ignored the security detail. Instead, he bolted to the practice green to get away from the crowd, then hopped a waist-high mesh fence to get to the parking lot.
Steinberg said he met with the tour last week and said there would be changes.
"There's not going to be more (security)," Steinberg said. "But the people around him are going to do a better job. They were getting lackadaisical."
Paul Stankowski used to be part of the tour's group of young stars, winning tournaments in 1996 and 1997. He hasn't finished higher than 70th on the money list since then, and knows exactly where to trace the problems.
He felt that to be a great player, he had to look like a great player.
While Stankowski went through some equipment changes to cash in on his success, he said the real problem was changing his swing.
He recalls seeing a video of himself while on the range at the 1997 PGA Championship. He thought he was too upright in his stance with a steep backswing, so he tried to change.
"It looked a lot better on the video the next couple of years, but it didn't look good coming off the golf club," Stankowski said. "I learned my lesson. I've tried my best to go back to what worked best before."
The Buy.com Tour could he getting a new name.
Barring a turnaround in the dot-come marketplace, Buy.com might not be able to continue its sponsorship of the PGA Tour's developmental circuit beyond 2002, a Buy.com Tour executive told Golf World Business magazine.
And that's if the e-tailer stays in business that long. Buy.com, which signed a five-year, $42.5 million deal in October 1999, recently reported a $27.4 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2000.
One option: Get individual sponsors for each event, instead of having a corporate sponsor for the entire tour.
Tour chief Bill Calfee said Buy.com is expected to pay the tour what it owes by this summer.
"Despite all this, they've been good partners," he said. "I believe they'll do everything in their power to keep things running at the highest level."
STAT OF THE WEEK:
The top eight places on the LPGA Tour money list are occupied by international players from five countries. Nancy Scranton at No. 9 is the top American.
"It's not going to hurt the tournament if people don't see me teeing off." - Byron Nelson, on making this year his last as a ceremonial starter at the Masters.
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