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Golf / Randy Harvey : Los Angeles Open Raises Purse This Year From $450,000 to $600,000

February 15, 1987|RANDY HARVEY

For winning the Los Angeles Open last year at Riviera, Doug Tewell received a check for $81,000. He barely had time to endorse it before the money was spent.

"I gave $40,000 to the government for taxes, leaving me with $41,000." he said. "I gave $10,000 to my caddie. My wife bought me a $7,000 watch for winning the tournament. Then I bought her a Nissan 300ZX for $24,000.

"So I'm broke.

"I wish I could sign a contract like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Maybe the money wouldn't go so quick."

Tewell probably felt obligated to mention Nissan because it's the corporate sponsor of this year's L.A. Open, which begins Thursday at Riviera.

With Nissan's contribution, the L.A. Open has been able to increase its purse from $450,000 to $600,000 and the winner's share from $81,000 to $108,000.

"That's why I'm back," Tewell said, "to get a bigger paycheck."

With a one-shot lead over Dennis Trixler and Lanny Wadkins, Tewell said he spent a restless night before going to Riviera for last year's final round.

"I think I slept 2 1/2 hours," he said. "I told my wife I didn't know why she came out to see me play because I knew I was going to lose.

"I couldn't sleep, I couldn't get up, I couldn't watch television, I couldn't read. I couldn't do anything right."

So how did he manage to win by seven shots?

"A positive mental attitude," he said.

Trivia Question: What is the 18th hole at Torrey Pines' South Course in La Jolla called? (Answer to follow.)

Not everyone was pleased when Kevin McCloskey, the L.A. Open's tournament chairman, found a way for Spain's Seve Ballesteros to enter.

Bill Wehnes, a member of the Southern California PGA's advisory committee, said he has nothing against Ballesteros, but that amateur Rob Sullivan shouldn't have been asked to relinquish his berth in the tournament to accommodate the two-time Masters champion.

"He won his place in the tournament," Wehnes said of Sullivan. "I don't think that should be negotiable."

Like most other tournaments on the PGA tour, the L.A. Open has four unrestricted exemptions. Earlier this year, it gave two to Japanese professionals and two to the winner and runner-up in an amateur qualifying tournament, Sullivan and UCLA teammate Brandt Jobe.

When McCloskey later learned that Ballesteros wanted to enter, the tournament chairman worked out an arrangement with Sullivan.

The golfer agreed to return his invitation this year, providing he can play in any one of the next three L.A. Opens. McCloskey first approached Jobe with the offer, but Jobe declined.

"I don't think those boys should have been placed in that position," Wehnes said. "When you go to them and say that a player of Ballesteros' caliber isn't getting to play because they're in the tournament, that's pressure.

"I think we should prevent this in the future. If we're going to tell the amateurs they can be in the tournament if they qualify, then they should be in. But if we're going to make those spots negotiable, let's don't have the qualifying tournament."

It's difficult to argue with Wehnes, who has the principle on his side. But, as unfortunate as it was, this was an exceptional situation. McCloskey had to take exceptional measures.

It's no secret that the L.A. Open has been struggling, having only the appeal of Riviera to lure the tour's best players. Before this year, the purse it offered was among the smallest on the tour.

But with Nissan's agreement to sponsor the tournament, the L.A. Open's purse is competitive with most of the other tournaments. Because of Nissan, the L.A. Open also was offered a television contract.

Nissan didn't do all of this for charity, although, being charitable, that probably was a consideration. The more successful the tournament, the more money the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce is able to donate.

Nissan is gambling that people will watch the tournament, either in person or on television, and then proceed to visit its automobile showrooms.

Will more people want to watch Seve Ballesteros or Rob Sullivan?

McCloskey did what he had to do, not only to please the majority of Southern California golf fans, who have so few chances to see Ballesteros, but also to raise the most money for charity.

Trivia Answer: Devlin's Billabong. Bruce Devlin took a 10 on the hole in 1975, including six shots to escape from the pond.

Quote: Fred Couples, on whether he enjoyed playing with George Brett in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: "It's fun, especially when you're playing well. If you're playing bad, it's not fun playing with anyone, even Farrah Fawcett."

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