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PGA's Top Earners Get Chance to Strike It Richer : Golf: Price, Norman head field of 30 leading money-winners in $3-million Tour Championship at Olympic Club.

October 27, 1994|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — It's late October and that means the thoughts of the professional golfers gathered here under the stately Cypress trees at the venerable Olympic Club are turning to . . . well, what?

Halloween? Four-foot par putts? Vacation?

Nope, they're here for the money, and lots of it.

There is some $3 million at stake in the PGA Tour Championship. You don't even have to know how to spell PGA to know that's a lot. A mere $540,000 goes to the winner.

So here is the format. Beginning today, the top 30 players on this year's PGA Tour money list tee it up for money and the glory of a tournament title.

This year's top two millionaires, Nick Price ($1.4 million) and Greg Norman ($1.2 million) head a field that includes 12 who have won more than $700,000.

It's sort of an embarrassment of riches, even for this elite group. All 30 of the players entered have won more than $1 million in their careers, led by Tom Kite's $9.1 million.

And that's only official PGA Tour earnings, not including money from endorsements, special events or any earned on any other tour.

Maybe these players weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths, but it looks as if they've got an entire place setting in there right now.

Jim Gallagher Jr. won the 1993 tournament after shooting 277 at the Olympic Club. But he didn't come back this time, mainly because winning once doesn't earn you an invitation to the next one.

In this tournament, you're only as good as your bank account.

There are 46 official PGA Tour events, but none of them are richer than this one. At least there is a good chance that these guys are going to have to earn their money.

The Olympic's Lake Course is 6,800 yards of straightforward golf. Designed by Sam Whiting and Wilfrid Reid in 1924, there is no water, no out of bounds and no fairway bunkers except for one on the sixth hole.

There's also no way anybody is going to kill it if the wind blows off the ocean, which it tends to do because the course is only about a good five-iron from the Pacific.

"This is one of my favorite courses," said Fred Couples, who earned $577,354 even though he played only 13 events. "Accuracy is very important here, length isn't."

Price and Norman, who seem to be tournament favorites wherever they play, might have scooped some of the tournament publicity when Norman announced that he and Price are going to team up. For money, of course.

Norman said he and Price are going to challenge two-man teams from the rest of the world in a series of televised $1-million, winner-take-all tournaments.

Norman said the first event will be played in February in the Bahamas, which would conflict with regularly scheduled PGA Tour events, including such West Coast tournaments as the Los Angeles Open.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who said the tour intends to protect its tournaments from competing special events, vowed to try to work out any potential scheduling conflicts.

In the meantime, any new conflicts ought to involve players vs. golf course.

Ernie Els, the U.S. Open champion, won $624,440 in 10 tournaments and is getting his first look at the Lake Course.

Els was back home in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week and arrived here Monday night. He played practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday at the Lake Course, which will be the site of the 1998 U.S. Open.

"At least I'll have a warm-up here this week," he said.

Like everybody else, it'll be worth his while. Last place gets $48,000.

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