Originally created 03/06/02

Golf notebook



The PGA Tour and the Masters share one thing in common - neither wants to get involved in the equipment industry.

Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson is starting to wonder if the club will have any other choice. The latest renovation to the 68-year-old course has added nearly 300 yards, and 11 of the 18 holes have been lengthened the past four years.

"If technology brings about change in the next several years like we've seen in the past several years, then we may have to consider equipment specifications for the Masters tournament," Johnson said this week from his home in Columbia, S.C.

Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Most of the attention is on the golf ball, and Greg Norman said it would make sense for the Masters to set its own standards if technology forced its hand.

"Augusta National could be the first and only tournament to introduce its own golf ball," Norman said. "They could have manufacturers make the golf ball. And every player will go play. They'll play with a gutta (percha) ball if they got invited."

When asked if the club was interested in setting equipment rules for its tournament, Johnson replied, "Certainly not."

Then again, Augusta National is almost out of room. The course has always gone through some minor changes from the time it opened in 1934, but never before have so many holes been changed in one year.

"We would like not to change the golf course, but we don't have any choice," Johnson said. "If we continue at the same rate the next five years like we had the last five years, I don't know where we'll go. I don't know where a lot of other great golf courses will go."

Not every player believes equipment standards are in Augusta's future.

"That will never happen," Chris DiMarco said. "The game is too big now. There are too many endorsement deals. If they would have started this from the beginning, they could have. But it's too late for that to happen."

Would he still compete if Augusta ever introduced its own equipment specs?

"Yeah, I'd go," DiMarco said. "It's the Masters."

---

STILL BITTER: Greg Norman still harbors bitter feelings toward PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem over the Shark's proposal for a world tour in 1994. The idea never received enough player support, and Finchem announced the World Golf Championships two years later.

When Norman was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in November, Finchem gave him credit for helping advance the WGC concept.

"It was sad," Norman says in the April issue of Golf Digest. "I wish he had never said that. Cut a guy's legs off, then give him a pair of shoes."

Norman says the commissioner shot down his idea by convincing players that it was little more than a moneymaker for Norman. The Shark said he was surprised Finchem even brought up the WGC at the induction ceremony.

"Thanks, but no thanks for the pardon," Norman said. "I still haven't forgotten what he did to me, and I never will. Never, ever will I forgive Tim Finchem, and he can induct me into a Hall of Fame once a week."

---

PEPPER NEEDS A DOCTOR: The LPGA Tour has barely started, and Dottie Pepper already is guaranteed one thing - a third straight season involving injury or illness.

Pepper had surgery on her left shoulder last Thursday and is expected to miss eight weeks while she recovers. That means the two-time Nabisco Championship winner will have to miss the first major of the year.

The good news: She should be in good shape when the Solheim Cup rolls around.

A year ago, Pepper was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr, a viral infection in the liver that drains energy. In 2000, she missed more than two months with wrist and back injuries.

---

LAST CALL: The field for the Masters will be set after the Honda Classic, but only two players have a realistic chance of winning a late spot.

Steve Flesch is 60th in the world ranking and likely would have to finish no worse than second to have any hope of moving into the top 50. The other qualifier is top three on the PGA Tour money list through the Honda Classic, and rookie Pat Perez would have to win the $630,000 first-place prize to climb that high.

Others within range include Fred Funk, John Cook, Ian Leggatt, Len Mattiace, Cameron Beckman and Matt Gogel, but they are not playing this week.

At the Dubai Desert Classic, Phillip Price probably would have to finish no worse than second and Pierre Fulke at least eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50.

The only other way to get to Augusta National after this week is to win The Players Championship, which comes with a three-year exemption.

---

DIVOTS: No cell phones are allowed at PGA Tour events - and that includes players. The tour has adopted a new policy that players cannot use cell phones on the practice range or putting green. ... The LPGA Tour now has 25 events with a purse of at least $1 million. The Office Depot Championship in Los Angeles announced a $100,000 increase to $1 million. ... The Reno-Tahoe Open might finally get a week to itself. It has been played opposite the World Golf Championships in late August, making it tough to get a strong field and a title sponsor. But with Air Canada pulling its sponsorship in Vancouver next year, Reno could fill that spot on the schedule. ... Tiger Woods' runner-up finish at Doral was his first on the PGA Tour since the 2000 Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. ... Lorie Kane was asked how she was feeling heading into the first LPGA Tour event of the year. "Well, I'm well-rested," she replied.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Since the PGA Tour was formed in 1968, the West Coast Swing never produced more than three first-time winners. This year there were five - Jerry Kelly, Matt Gogel, Len Mattiace, Kevin Sutherland and Ian Leggatt.

---

FINAL WORD: "I think I can win the Masters. You may sound surprised, but I am very confident this year. I have a very good feeling in myself. I am capable of winning. I'm talking very serious." - Seve Ballesteros, who hasn't won any tournament since 1995.