Originally created 09/24/01

Final-round excitement serves as fitting end



A wise golf scribe once said that a tournament is judged not by scores but by the company it keeps.

In that case, the inaugural Asahi Ryokuken International Championship was a success. A representative field of the LPGA's talent was on hand in spite of trying emotional circumstances and even more trying weather.

Sunday was the kind of day event organizers envisioned. One of the game's brightest stars, Annika Sorenstam, made a charge up the leaderboard in the final round to stir the patrons. And when it was all over, the LPGA world was introduced to the newest German import - first-time champion Tina Fischer in a first-time golf tournament.

Fitting, it seems.

Fischer is a long way from the Futures Tour she languished on last season and even further from the Hall of Fame where Sorenstam will soon reside. But in the Augusta-area golf annals Fischer's name now resides in rarified company with the likes of Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth.

Thirty-five years removed from the Titleholders, top-echelon women's golf returned to the golf capital of America in good standing.

"With the exception of Mother Nature, it's been a great event," said Lorie Kane, who didn't seem overly influenced by the $57,365 fourth-place check she'll take home to Canada.

Considering the young life of the Mount Vintage Plantation golf course and the short time frame the tournament organizers had to put on a professional event, things were well received. A lot better received than the green powdered barley grass drink that the event sponsor had a tough time peddling to skeptical Southerners.

(By the way: the Aojiru green drink isn't as bad as it looks and is apparently "remarkably rich in Carotene." My taste buds register it somewhere between green tea and pureed fescue.)

The hills of Edgefield County were alive not just with the grunting and groaning of laboring golfers but with galleries poised at every corner to encourage them along. The spectator ranks swelled on the weekend beyond anything the old Titleholders patrons could have envisioned.

"The galleries were great," Jill McGill said.

"There were more people on the course than I thought," said Augusta's own Mitzi Edge. "They were real troopers."

There were a lot of real Troopers too, the uniformed and armed kind needed to part the throngs of autograph seekers preventing Sorenstam from getting to the locker room. Who needs Tiger Woods to create a little chaos behind the 18th green?

"It was great hospitality and a good event for a first-time event," Sorenstam said. "I'm really happy I came. It's been a good week."

The tournament organizers seem confident of the event's long-term prosperity. The base-plate of the trophy Tina Fischer took home was engraved with her name and had room for future champions through 2010.

We'll get a better idea in May whether the rough terrain and mystifying greens of Mount Vintage has scared away too many guests.

But if the green powdered barley drink industry remains prosperous in Asia and another $1.2 million is on the line, you can bet that the women will return en masse, no matter how much they complained about the hills and the pin locations.

"It's been really nice," Kris Tschetter said. "Everyone seemed to be so happy that we were here."

Good company is always welcome.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.