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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

The Game Is Good From TV to Green

May 16, 1997|THOMAS BONK

That was quite a showdown, all right, when those PGA Tour honchos and those network TV bosses stood jaw to jaw, stared each other down, then drew their remote controls and clicked.

Last weekend, the PGA Tour agreed to a new, four-year contract with CBS, ABC, NBC, ESPN, USA Sports and the Golf Channel worth an estimated $350 million, (Thank you, Tiger Woods), a sum more than double the

$160-million deal that expires at the end of 1998.

So who's the obvious winner in this thing? It might be the TV golf viewer, mainly because there will be 20% more golf on television. That's not so much more, though.

How about the networks? They have been in business long enough to know what they can spend on rights fees and still make money, so now they're free to establish new rates for commercial time. The price for that sleeve of golf balls is going nowhere but up.

Is it PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem? He's certainly going to be popular among tour pros, but not so popular in places such as Tucson, San Antonio and Hawaii, all of which are either losing their tournaments or relegated to second-class status by competing against other events the same week.

Actually, you'd have to say that the really big winners emerging from the TV deal are the PGA Tour players themselves.

They have hit a gold mine. Estimates are that the average tournament purse will double to about $3.5 million by 2002.

It's not unreasonable to assume that the leading money winner on the PGA Tour in the year 2000 will be pulling down more than $3 million. Tom Lehman led with $1.78 million in 1996.

Finchem said the TV deal means PGA Tour players will "receive earnings more in line with world-class players in other sports."

It's the greening of golf. And you can watch it happen on television.

AIR PUTT

How much is it worth to you to putt like Mike?

First, Michael Jordan opens his own golf company, then Wilson Golf decides to make 2,300 of its famous milled 8802 putters, each one numbered and featuring a Jordan logo on the toe end of the face and his signature in gold on the heel.

It's yours for $450. Part of the proceeds benefit the Michael Jordan Youth Foundation.

NEAR FREEZING

For what it's worth, at his pre-tournament news conference as the defending champion of this week's GTE Byron Nelson Classic, Phil Mickelson used the word "cool" eight times in 20 minutes.

Mickelson is from Southern California, of course.

A LOT OF TIGER

Until this week, Woods hadn't played since the Masters, but interest in him is unflagging.

His appearance helped sell out the Byron Nelson Classic for the first time. His youth foundation clinic was front-page news in the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers Monday. And his meet-the-press interview session Tuesday was standing room only and lasted 50 minutes. A transcript of the interview was 46 pages long.

NO TIGER DETERRENT

Since Woods hammered Augusta National down to size on his way to his record-setting Masters victory, some people have wondered how the USGA would retaliate at the U.S. Open.

Buzz Taylor, a member of the executive committee of the USGA, said Congressional in suburban Washington hasn't been set up to deter the long-hitting ability of Woods.

"There's a difference between great tests of a player's shot-making ability and the ridiculous," Taylor said. "Would we fundamentally alter the setup of the golf course? No. This course was fundamentally set up two years ago."

However, Taylor seemed to be sounding a warning to Woods as far as a style of play that would work at Congressional, a 7,213-yard, par-70 layout.

"I guarantee you every Open course does not reward aggressive play," Taylor said. "If you play aggressively, you're going to need a hell of a lot of luck."

BOOM! YOU WIN

We know that for the first time in 88 years at the U.S. Open, the finishing hole will be a par three, but defending Open champion Steve Jones said No. 18 is going to be a harder hole than people realize.

"It's going to make things very interesting," Jones said. "It's going to be like Tiger and Tom [Lehman] on the first hole of the playoff at the Mercedes [Championships] this year. It's going to be one shot--boom!--and it's over with."

The 18th hole was not used during the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional. A hole from the club's third nine at the time was used to reconfigure the layout. At the 1995 U.S. Senior Open, golfers played the par three as No. 10.

The way it's set up now, the tee has been moved back to 190 yards and steeper slopes around the green bring water into play for anything hit short or to the left.

DREAM GAME

If you could choose an ideal imaginary foursome, who would it be? If you said Woods and three other guys, go stand in a bunker. Here are some other ideas.

Brad Faxon: Arnold Palmer, Bobby Orr, Glenn Frey, Sandy Koufax.

Jim Furyk: Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Neil Armstrong, Terry Bradshaw.

Dave Stockton Jr.: Dave Stockton Sr., Jimmy Buffet, Elvis Presley, Ernest Hemingway.

Justin Leonard: Jones, Nelson, Ben Hogan, Winston Churchill.

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