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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Can't We All Get Along on Course?

May 02, 1997|THOMAS BONK

Fuzzy Zoeller's biggest problem at the golf course is not making a bogey or missing the fairway or hitting a spike mark, but keeping his mouth shut.

By now, of course, the Zoeller Episode has become the popular way to measure all race relations on this continent, or so it seems.

Zoeller made insensitive racial remarks about Tiger Woods at the Masters, brought to us a week later by CNN, then withdrew from a tournament at Greensboro, N.C., and was dropped by his sponsor when the criticism hit.

If that wasn't enough, this week Zoeller made much the same remarks in a joking exchange with an African American golfer at a pro-am, then defended his right to do so.

Charlie Sifford said Thursday the whole thing has been overblown.

"It's a bad break for Fuzzy," said Sifford, 74, one of the pioneering African American golfers. "He just made a wrong comment at the wrong time. But let's get over this.

"He's always saying things and he's been joking his whole life. That's part of Fuzzy. And no, I didn't take offense."

Senior PGA Tour players Jim Dent and Walter Morgan said the Zoeller incident has been blown out of proportion, but no one of Sifford's stature had commented before.

"It was just a mistake he made and he's paid for it," said Sifford, who thought CNN erred by failing to show the taped interview for a week.

"And that's the Masters, you know," Sifford said. "At that place, the newspapers, the TV people, they're looking for something. That was just a good spot for them to get him right there."

Woods did not respond until four days after the tape aired, during which time golf got its face muddied a little bit after riding so high as a result of Woods' victory at the Masters.

Woods' representatives at IMG said their client was busy taping the "Oprah Winfrey Show," then in lengthy meetings in Oregon with Nike. Woods did not see the Zoeller tape, which aired on a Sunday, until the following Thursday.

"We absolutely did not hang Fuzzy out to dry," said Bev Norwood of IMG. "[Tiger] wasn't going to say something he didn't mean, so he carefully considered his statement."

Now, if only Zoeller could do the same.

HE'S COVERED

Within one week after winning the Masters, Woods was popping up on magazine covers all over the place.

Woods appeared on the front of Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, Time, People, Sports Illustrated and Golf World. Presumably, National Geographic and Psychology Today had already gone to press.

It seems pretty clear that many publications are figuring out ways to get their Tiger fix. For instance, Woods showed up in the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, in a cartoon titled "Stuff You Didn't Know About Tiger Woods."

What stuff? Stuff like this: "He had a middle-class upbringing by his real parents, Jor-El and Lara, on the planet Krypton."

Bet you didn't know that.

THREE AN ODD NUMBER

Last year at Oakland Hills, the U.S. Open was decided on the final hole, where Steve Jones did what neither Tom Lehman nor Davis Love III could--make par.

If that was dramatic, chances are that this year's U.S. Open at Congressional may be something else . . . maybe something quirky.

That's because the finishing hole at Congressional, in Bethesda, Md., is a par three. It is the first time since 1909 that the 18th hole at the U.S. Open will be a par three.

For the other U.S. Open at Congressional, in 1964, the par-three 18th was not played. Instead, one hole from a third nine at the club was borrowed and the golfers finished on what is usually the 17th hole, a 480-yard par four.

For Woods-watchers, it should not only be noted that Congressional measures 7,213 yards and par is 70, but also that there are four par threes and only two par fives.

OPEN UP

What do Johnny Bench and Ivan Lendl have in common? They are both going to try to qualify for the U.S. Open at local qualifying next month.

Sectional qualifying over 36 holes will be held at 12 sites June 2-3. The only one in California is El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana.

El Caballero was the host of the second Los Angeles Open in 1927, two years before it was held at Riviera for the first time.

TROPHY TRIO

For what it's worth, defending champion Jones, defending British Open champion Lehman and Masters champion Woods will play together the first two days of the U.S. Open.

LPGA: IT'S INFLATION

Before this week's Sprint Titleholders Championship at Daytona Beach, Fla., Susie Berning won the tournament's senior challenge and collected $30,000.

Berning, 55, won the Women's U.S. Open in 1968, 1972 and 1973 and won a combined $17,000.

*

Nancy Lopez's rain-shortened, 36-hole victory at last week's Chick-fil-A tournament in Georgia was her 48th in a 21-year career, but her first since 1993.

Lopez, 40, said she has decided to shoot for something more. She wants to reach the 50-victory mark this year.

"You have to set goals," Lopez said. "Ray [Knight, her husband] said I should try for 50."

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