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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

For Pepperdine's Coach, NCAA Title Hits the Spot

June 06, 1997|THOMAS BONK

The best way to win a golf tournament is with birdies and eagles, but now there's a new way: with chickenpox.

Yes, Pepperdine pulled the NCAA title out of the medicine cabinet last weekend at Conway Farms Country Club in Lake Forest, Ill., where they could have used thermometers instead of flagsticks.

With John Geiberger, the Pepperdine coach, confined to his hotel room because of chickenpox, the Waves won their first NCAA golf championship in a stunning

upset. It was either a triumph for medicine or the power of positive swinging.

Geiberger, 29, is the fourth Pepperdine golf coach in the last four years. He now becomes the first golf coach in history to win an NCAA title without actually seeing one ball hit in person. Assistant coach Kevin Marsh took over for Geiberger on the course.

Geiberger said it's not his fault he got chickenpox at his age.

"Blame my mom," he joked. "She should have thrown me into the pool with all the other kids."

A former star at Pepperdine, Geiberger is the son of Al Geiberger, who was allowed to visit in John's hotel room for a brief victory party Sunday night. John was busy hugging the trophy.

"Dad didn't let out a lot of emotion then," John said. "But he just couldn't say enough positive things about me and the program."

Geiberger had given up caddying for his dad to try for the Pepperdine job, which his father, a former USC star, had urged him to seek.

The Waves were ranked No. 20 before the NCAA event, and Geiberger said finishing in the top 10 would have been good enough.

That probably would satisfy him next year too, since Pepperdine loses star Jason Gore as well as all of its regular players.

Geiberger has to hope that winning is contagious, even if he isn't anymore. In fact, Geiberger plans to play in an alumni tournament Saturday at Indian Ridge in Palm Desert. The only problem is that he will have to put the trophy down first.

TIGER VS. JACK

Better get used to it. There doesn't seem any way to avoid the continuing story line in Tiger Woods' career, which is how he compares to Jack Nicklaus, the modern standard by which golf greatness is measured.

In 1962, Nicklaus' first year as a professional, he had no victories in his first 16 tournaments. Through Woods' first 16 events as a pro, eight of them last year, he has five victories.

Woods has a target to aim for in the majors, compared to how Nicklaus performed.

Nicklaus won the U.S. Open in 1962, his first victory as a pro. In the other three majors that year, Nicklaus tied for 15th at the Masters, tied for 34th at the British Open and tied for third at the PGA.

Woods won the Masters in April, the first major tournament of the year. The U.S. Open begins Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., where Woods is among the favorites.

TIGER TOUR

The unofficial Woods World Tour, which has made stops in Australia and Thailand this year, will play in Japan in November as part of a promotion with Nike, his major corporate sponsor.

Woods will do a clinic and make public appearances for Nike in Tokyo in early November, then play the Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters on Nov. 12-15. Then he will play in the PGA's Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii, Nov. 18-19.

MAC'S WORLD

Former PGA Tour regular Mac O'Grady, 46, believes he can come back and play on the tour, even though he has had surgery six times in the last five years.

"I'm looking for a brain transplant right now," he said.

In the meantime, O'Grady said one of his primary missions is to help influence players to exhibit a "high level of merriment" on the course instead of "crying all the time."

You had to know O'Grady was serious about being funny when he asked actor Joe Regalbuto of "Murphy Brown" fame to caddie for him in his U.S. Open qualifying attempt Monday at El Caballero.

Regalbuto noted the number of times (23) O'Grady had tried to qualify.

"I'm just trying to qualify as a caddie," Regalbuto said.

On his entry form, O'Grady listed his home course at Holmby Park, a par-three course behind Los Angeles Country Club. He always does that because it's the first course O'Grady played when he was 14.

NO SALT, PLEASE

Tim Hogarth, the U.S. Public Links champion from Van Nuys, shot 81 in the morning round of Open qualifying at El Caballero. He quickly decided he didn't belong on a golf course, so he took off for a more appropriate venue.

"I'm going to El Torito," he said.

NEW CARDINAL RULES

Now in its post-Tiger period, the Stanford golf program is so, well, is normal the right word?

"All I know is it's a lot more low-key and Coach [Wally Goodwin] is a lot more relaxed," said Joel Kribel, who qualified for the U.S. Open.

Translation: It's back to being anonymous.

But there also are a lot of guys wearing red caps with a big white Stanford 'S' on them who are following the adventures of Woods.

"It's mind-boggling," Kribel said. "Just last year we were playing tournaments alongside him and now he's winning the Masters and by 12 shots and worth however many million. It's hard to believe.

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